Deadly stretch of I-26 claims mother, toddler

A fiery crash that claimed the life of a Berkeley County mother and her toddler happened on a section of Interstate 26 known for its deadly accidents.

Deshonta Beaufort, 21, of Huger and her 23-month-old son Salamo Bell, were identified Wednesday as the victims of an early Monday morning crash near Bowman. Her 2010 Nissan ran off the right shoulder of the road near mile marker 152, hit a tree and burst into flames.

Some 57 traffic deaths happened on the stretch of interstate between Orangeburg and Charleston from 2006 to 2009. That translates to 42 percent of all fatalities on I-26 during that time, the DOT said.

Trees on I-26 have been identified as one of the reasons for so many deadly accidents, and the state Department of Transportation’s current solution is to cut down all the trees in the median and install guard rails, a plan that has met with opposition from state and local officials.

I-26 in the area of this recent fatal accident is flat and straight. “We do experience a lot of accidents there. The majority of them have been single-car accidents,” Orangeburg County Chief Deputy Coroner Sean Fogle said.

He said the mother and child died of asphyxia from carbon monoxide poisoning and thermal injuries. Investigators identified no mechanical problems with the car that would have led to the accident and the exact cause of the pre-dawn wreck has not been determined.

In 2011, there were 828 vehicle crash fatalities in South Carolina. Some 454 of them involved a car or truck leaving the highway, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In the past year, the DOT reviewed I-26 crash patterns on the stretch of highway from Orangeburg to Charleston and came up with a plan to address safety concerns by focusing on the highway between Summerville and Interstate 95. That was the area where the biggest concentration of fatalities occurred, said Tony Sheppard, DOT director of traffic engineering. Trees would be removed from the median from mile marker 199 up to I-95 and cable guardrails would be installed.

Opponents say doing that will mar the appearance of the gateway to Charleston and make the now-forested median appear barren. Sheppard said the median is the focus of the safety effort because that is where most of the fatal crashes happen.

Currently, the DOT and the Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester Council of Governments are working together to evaluate concerns about the tree-clearing plan. “We’re meeting with them trying to come up with a solution,” Sheppard said.

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