Police say Route 102 crashes were 'preventable'

Shannon Heil and Markell Torres were killed in a crash on Route 102 on July 11, 2013.

Burrillville police said Friday that three crashes in two weeks on Route 102 - two of them fatal - were the result of drivers making bad decisions.

Locals say a particular stretch of Route 102 is notorious for accidents, but police said the road is not to blame for the recent tragedies.

"The cause of each accident is driver error. These accidents have been preventable, unfortunately," Col. Stephen Lynch said at a news conference.

The first crash, on July 5, killed 37-year-old Massiel Ortiz, of Providence, when she made an abrupt U-turn into oncoming traffic. Her two daughters were injured, along with the driver of an oncoming car and his son. Police said the illegal U-turn led to the tragedy.

Six days later, 19-year-old Shannon Heil, of Burrillville, was killed when she veered into the wrong lane and struck an oncoming minivan. Markell Torres, 19, of Easthampton, Mass., who was riding in the backseat without a seatbelt, was also killed.

"We believe that Shannon Heil was distracted, looking down at her cell phone between her legs, just seconds prior to the crash," Lynch said.

On Monday, 21-year-old Daniel Wilson struck two other cars near East Avenue, sending a woman to the hospital. Police said Wilson ran a red light.

Police said the three crashes are a good reminder that when you're driving, the best place for your phone is safely put away in the backseat so you won't be distracted while you're behind the wheel.

Burrillville police said they'll launch a social media campaign on Facebook aimed at safer driving. The state Department of Transportation will do a long-term study of Route 102, looking for ways to make the area safer.

"The important thing to remember is that we can't fix this problem through engineering alone. We are all challenged to give our full attention to the road," said the DOT's Robert Rocchio.

Starting immediately, drivers in Burrillville will see increased patrols with help from Rhode Island State Police. Officers will crack down on speeding and distracted driving, as well as look for drunken drivers.

Their goal is to make sure no more memorials line the roadway.