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1:18 PM Wed, Sept. 19th

5 die in 3 vehicle collisions in 1 week

Fatal car accidents in the Prescott area this past week came in a group of three and killed five people.

All three accidents involved one vehicle straying from its lane of traffic and colliding with oncoming traffic.

The first occurred Monday, Feb. 13, at about 3:15 p.m. on Highway 169 when a northbound vehicle driven by 58-year-old Cottonwood resident Charmaine Cunningham veered into the southbound lane and collided with a box van. Cunningham died at the scene.

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, at about 7 a.m., 27-year-old Prescott Valley resident Nichole Hatton became the second to die, while driving east on Fain Road.

Witnesses told police that her vehicle strayed into the westbound lane and scraped the side of a westbound dump truck. It then veered back into the eastbound lane before banking left again and colliding with a second oncoming dump truck.

As with Monday's fatal accident, police said it is unclear why the driver strayed from her lane of traffic.

The third occurred at approximately 4:30p.m. Sunday. Witnesses told police they saw a vehicle eastbound on Highway 69 at high speed and weaving in and out of traffic. Its driver, whom police later identified as 28-year-old Prescott resident Reyes Lopez-Lopez, lost control, crossed the centerline, spun out and collided with an oncoming pickup truck.

Lopez-Lopez and the two occupants of the truck, Cordes Lake residents Jewell W. Watson, 69, and Betty Jean Watson, 68, died at the scene.

Sgt. Frank Lopez of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, who said he has worked "far too many" fatal accidents in his 32 years at DPS, attributed the accidents to a "culture" of irresponsible driving.

"People need to have self-discipline and that's what we're missing," the District 12 DPS commander said. "It's total disregard for other people and themselves."

Lopez said the best way to reduce the chances of being in an accident is to obey all traffic laws. When anyone encounters a vehicle that isn't, he said, it is wise to let it pass.

"What we see people doing is getting angry because someone is coming up behind them fast," he said, adding that the tapping of brakes only makes the situation more dangerous.

The use of cell phones while driving is another serious, increasing problem, Lopez said. "It's not against the law, but it needs to be," he said.

P.J. Janik, commander of the Prescott Valley Police Department's patrol division, which handled Sunday's three-person fatal collision, said bad driving comes from bad habits.

He said the correct habits include being attentive to surroundings, driving defensively and, what's most important, driving sober.

Contact the reporter at malewis@prescottaz.com