Easter crash killed triple-jump champ, wife and baby

The Easter weekend’s tragic news of a family killed on the almost brand-new straightaway between Tīnūži and Koknese was sadly updated Wednesday, as the identity of the victims was made public – they were Latvia’s 24-year-old triple-jump champion Pāvels Kovaļovs, his 23-year-old wife Jeļena and their two-and-a-half month-old baby Jūlija.

Just this February, Kovaļovs had earned his third national championship title with a 15.56-meter long triple jump. In 2009 he set a personal record of 16.03 meters and won the European Junior Championship bronze medal. He was one of only sixteen athletes from Latvia who had exceeded a 16-meter triple jump.

The accident occurred on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, April 5 when the vehicle collided head-on with a truck at such high speed that at first it was not even possible for rescuers to determine its make. According to witnesses on the road, the unspecified driver of the car had been operating it aggressively, passing many other drivers in the approaching-traffic lane. However, at the time of the crash witnesses reported that no other vehicle was being passed in the regular traffic lane, but the car simply didn’t yield to the oncoming truck. The lone survivor - the truck driver confirmed that this had been so.

While the jack-knifed truck and shattered car shut down the highway for several hours, police and road safety experts were prompted to speak out forcefully against reckless driving habits and road rage. The smooth stretch of highway opened last year, but has since become a speeding corridor, where police radars are now regularly snapping drivers exceeding the legal limits by ridiculously dangerous margins – for instance, the recent record of 167 kilometers per hour (kph) was just broken along the same stretch of pothole-free pavement by a BMW clocked at an astonishing 217 kph, LETA reported Wednesday.

"It's a question of attitude," remarked Artūrs Priednieks, a road safety expert asked to comment to LTV news program Panorāma on why Latvia's traffic is so much more accident-prone than in other countries. "Drivers seem to think they'll evade police attention with one violation after another," he said.

Priednieks suggested the only way to rein in reckless drivers would be to increase the police presence on the roads, especially in unmarked cars using mobile radar devices to clock speeders, so that drivers don't just slow down when they know there's a stationary speed-radar ahead, but simply observe the limits set by law as a rule.

Traffic police and road safety experts point to the lack of funding for features like dividing barriers between opposite traffic lanes and guard rails on the elevated roadsides, not to mention unmarked police vehicles that could utilize stealth in their patrolling of Latvia’s shamefully hazardous roads and unwary drivers.

Unfortunately, the tragic fate of the Kovaļovs family will only swell the bleak statistics placing Latvia ahead of all other European Union member-states for traffic deaths last year.

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