Troopers step up enforcement in Eagle Ford Shale counties

By Eva Ruth Moravec
San Antonio Express-News

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers from across the state are flocking to the Eagle Ford Shale region, where officers are stepping up enforcement in an effort to curb unsafe driving caused by the oil boom.

The multi-agency task force, which also includes local law enforcement, is starting in Karnes and Wilson counties this week, where extra officers will be on patrol. Other counties will be targeted in coming weeks, said Trooper Jason Reyes.

Since the South Texas oil rush began in 2009, traffic has increased exponentially on roads more equipped for farm-to-market travel.

“We’ve seen double and triple the amount of traffic, and complaints have come in,” Reyes said. “We know these oil companies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so we’re trying to work together to make the roadways safe for everyone.”

Reyes said troopers will be in the two counties on two 12-hour shifts over the next three days. They’ll be looking for moving and non-moving violations, he said, specifically involving commercial trucks.

It’s too soon for data to accurately reflect how traffic has affected the area, Reyes said, but preliminary numbers show an increase in fatal crashes in shale counties, including Karnes and Wilson.

In 2011, both counties experienced one fatal crash involving a commercial motor vehicle; already this year, both counties have had three each, according to data compiled by DPS, through June 1 and San Antonio Express-News reports.

“It’s very difficult for us to pinpoint a specific cause; we’re too early in the game right now,” he said. “But there have been mechanical errors and other driver errors — we don’t want to place all of the blame on the commercial vehicles.”

Last week, a passenger in a pickup died after the driver swerved to avoid striking a slow-moving car and instead crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer.

John Scharr II, 35, was pronounced dead at San Antonio Military Medical Center about three hours after the Karnes County crash.

According to Trooper Roman Macias, the driver of the pickup had been speeding on Texas 239, south of Texas 72, and came around a curve and ended up behind a slow driver. To keep from striking the car, the pickup driver swerved into oncoming traffic and collided with the 18-wheeler.

Oil companies have strict guidelines for employees operating big rigs, but since many employees are working on shale projects from out of town, they often travel long distances in their personal vehicles, Reyes said. Several motorists have crashed because of fatigue on the way to or from work, he said.

“These guys are working all day long in this heat,” Reyes said. “There have been instances of crashes because of fatigue, and we feel that by training the public, we’re taking a different approach.”

Last year, there were four fatal crashes involving personal vehicles in Karnes County and two in Wilson County. Through June 1, Wilson’s personal vehicle crashes have doubled; Karnes County has only had one, according to DPS.

Twitter: @EvaRuth