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Car Accident Death of Former Powtahan County, VA Deputy Caused by Hydroplaning

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The Powtahan County community remembered retired county deputy Howard E. Clark last Monday. Clark was a longtime resident who died as a result of a car accident on May 28. He was driving a Ford Festiva near the intersection of Buckingham Road and Old Plantation Road when he swerved into the eastbound lane of Old Buckingham Road and collided head-on with a Hyundai Accent.

A severe thunderstorm at the time of the accident caused the Virginia State Police MedFlight service to be unavailable. Instead, an ambulance transported Clark to Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. Sadly, Clark died later that night. The Hyundai driver had minor injuries and was also transported to Medical College of Virginia as a precaution.

Virginia State Trooper Andrew Dunivan investigated the crash and concluded that Clark’s Ford hydroplaned, causing him to lose control of the car and crash into the Hyundai.

At Clark’s service on June 2, former sheriff Lynn Woodcock said Clark knew the area like the back of his hand. “He knew the county and he knew the people,” she said. Comments on the funeral home’s website described Clark as kind, gentle, and highlighted his community service.

As drivers, we can’t control the weather or the resulting road conditions, but we can control how we respond. Howard Clark’s death is a tragic reminder that we should learn and practice the correct way to respond to different road conditions so we can react with confidence and keep ourselves and others on the road from being seriously injured.

Most hydroplaning accidents occur right after it starts raining because the rain brings oil and dirt to the surface causing the road to be even more slippery than with rain alone. A vehicle hydroplanes when its tires can’t move the water out from them fast enough, causing the tires to ride on top of a thin layer of water.

Hydroplaning diagram

The driver loses the ability to steer, brake, or accelerate until the tires regain contact with the road.

Ideally, we should aim to prevent hydroplaning entirely. Speed and tire tread depth are major factors in hydroplaning that you control. The faster you travel, the less time your tire has to grip the road. Experts recommend you slow down by 1/3 in rainy weather, so if you are traveling 60 mph slow down to 40 mph. Tread depth determines how much water your tire can clear from beneath it. If your tire treads are too worn, the tire will end up traveling on top of the water. An easy way to test your tread depth is to stick a penny in your tire tread upside down. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, your treads are too worn and you need new tires.

If you do hydroplane, your first instinct may be to slam on the brakes, but that’s the worst thing to do. Instead, experts say to take your foot off the accelerator, steer in the direction you want to go, and don’t apply the brakes until you feel your tires re-grip the road.  Knowing and following these simple steps can prevent you from colliding with another vehicle or sliding off the roadway.

AM