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Traffic fatalities up

Fourteen people died in crashes last week, the bloodiest seven days on Nebraska roads in more than seven years.

The accidents brought the number of traffic fatalities to 27 for 2013, the highest in five years for the first five weeks, according to data from the state Office of Highway Safety.

Weather was the wild card after a storm rolled through the state at midweek, dropping 5 inches of snow and lowering temperatures from the 40s and 30s into single digits, according to the National Weather Service.

“Whether it’s black ice or snow or fog, people tend to overdrive their abilities and get into trouble,”  Highway Safety spokesman Fred Zwonechek said.

The 14 deaths included 20-year-old Joshua Lytle of Page, who died early Saturday when the vehicle he was riding in rolled over at a rural intersection west of Newman Grove, according to the Nebraska State Patrol. Two others in the vehicle were hurt.

A few hours later, 33-year-old Samuel Hobbs of Ewing died after losing control of his vehicle, which rolled near a bridge over U.S. 275 east of Ewing.

Deadly crashes spiked last year after a sharp change in weather when an unseasonable warm spell hit Lincoln in January.

Drivers adjust to changes in weather over time, Zwonechek said. When conditions swerve suddenly, they have a tough time.

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“We have a pretty short-term memory about what it’s like and what we really need to be doing,” he said.

Most of last week’s fatalities -- and 23 of the 27 so far this year -- happened in rural areas where speed limits are higher, Zwonechek said.

Weather conditions also affect rural areas more severely than in cities, where buildings buffer wind, snow and rain while also giving off radiant heat.

Reach Jonathan Edwards at 402-473-7395 or jedwards@journalstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/LJSedwards.

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