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Elderly driver causes accident

An early morning car crash, Thursday, seriously injured a Duncan man.  The Oklahoma Highway Patrol told 7News that not only was the driver who hit the man elderly, he is also suspected of driving under the influence.

OHP says 81 year old Thomas Gentry of Lebanon, Oklahoma was driving on the wrong side of Highway 7.  He was traveling eastbound in the westbound lanes when he slammed head on into Gregory Younts of Duncan.  Minutes earlier, Gentry had nearly hit one of our 7News producers on her way to work.  She and other drivers phoned OHP immediately but it was too late.  By the time they arrived the damage was done, he had already crashed.

Troopers say Gentry reeked of alcohol and his family told OHP that he may be suffering from Dementia and Alzheimers.  So why was he allowed to drive?  The highway patrol says he wasn't; he has a long history of drunk driving and his license was revoked in the nineties.  But 7News wondered whether or not his age could have also been a factor.

This isn't the first time that authorities have encountered this sort of problem.  In some states, re-testing past a certain age is required but, in Oklahoma, there's no maximum age limit for drivers.  They don't have to be retested or meet any special requirements.  It's often up to their families, doctors and law enforcement agencies to intervene and sometimes doctors, officers and troopers can request to have licenses suspended for the safety of the driver and others on the road.

"In elderly drivers we typically see they'll violate more laws," says Trooper Rusty Russell.  "Also, they'll have more close encounters with other vehicles because eyesight is not as good because they're older."  Russell says elderly drivers were responsible for 15 percent of fatality crashes during 2005 in Oklahoma. 

Getting older is a part of life, but along with it comes the degeneration of many motor skills and senses that drivers need to rely on.  "Reactions slow down, sometimes judgment isn't as good as it needs to be because vision being possibly a problem," says Terry Priddy.  He works with older drivers as an Occupational Therapist at Memorial Hospital and says many of his patients have experienced some type of medical problem, like a stroke.  Some families also send their older loved ones to the driving simulator out of concern.  For instance "You may not realize you're going fast enough to pull around a car to pass or you may try to pull up into a garage and not realize you're already in or you may not pull up far enough and realize you're out in the street," said Priddy.

This may have been what happened with Thomas Gentry and adding alcohol to the mix was a recipe for disaster.  OHP says they've taken a blood sample to determine if, in fact, Gentry was driving under the influence.  Duncan Regional Hospital says he's been treated and released.  The man he's accused of hitting, Gregory Younts, is said to be in good condition.

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