Dec 20, 2010

 
 
 

HEFLIN, Ala. — His wife riding beside him with their two children in safety seats in the back, John Fisher drove home toward South Carolina along a stretch of Interstate 20 covered with ruts, bumps and crumbling concrete.

Just ahead of the family, Crystal Marie Dick was heading to the other side of the Georgia line to give a friend a ride.

The pothole in front of her 1995 Toyota Camry had been fixed at least once already, and now the repair was breaking down, too. A pocket of jagged, brittle bits of concrete covered nearly half of the right lane, the slow lane.

Her Camry hit the hole, kicking a chunk into the air as the Fishers' green Ford pickup hurtled forward at 70 mph.

The glass directly in front of Fisher's wife exploded.

No one knows exactly how big the fragment was, but it blew a hole the size of a football through the windshield. It struck Jo Maureen Fisher in the head, sailed between her preschoolers, hit the rear window and shattered it too, flying out of the truck's cab never to be found.

Wounded in the most random of ways, John Fisher's 33-year-old wife died the next day. Today, he is a single dad trying to balance work with child care and all the things she used to do.

Back in Alabama, Dick is trying to go on with life too. It's not easy when you're a young mother and your only transportation is that old blue Camry, the one that still carries awful memories and a busted rear end from hitting a pothole at highway speed.

Dick knows she wasn't at fault — troopers decided no one was — yet she still is haunted by the accident.

"People told me, 'You're the one who killed that lady?' It hurts," the 23-year-old said. "I wasn't doing anything wrong. I wasn't texting. I wasn't talking on the phone. I wasn't speeding. I wasn't doing anything but driving."

Using federal studies, the Washington-based transportation safety advocacy group TRIP estimates the United States could save 145 lives over a decade for every $100 million spent on a variety of road safety improvements and maintenance.

The cost is high.

So is the price of letting just one pothole turn into a killer.

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