The baseball world was rocked in January with the tragic news that Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in an auto accident in his native Dominican Republic. Just 25 years old, it was a stunning loss of a bright baseball future and a life ending far too young.
Ventura’s death was also a painful reminder of another young baseball star who also died in a car crash while home in the Dominican Republic during the offseason in 2014. Oscar Taveras was only 22 when the car he was driving collided with a tree, killing him and his girlfriend.
These tragedies occurring just over two years apart (former major leaguer Andy Marte was also killed in an auto accident on the same day as Ventura, in a separate incident) drew attention to a major problem in the Dominican Republic. That’s the subject of a report on HBO’s Real Sports Tuesday night by Jon Frankel. Car accidents and fatalities are an epidemic in the country with drivers routinely operating their vehicles while drinking, not wearing seat belts, and driving way too fast.
It’s a lethal combination that is all too commonplace, as explained by former MLB pitcher Amaury Telemaco. Now a scout and coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ academy in the Dominican Republic, Telemaco refers to the most trafficked, highly dangerous road in the country, Cartera Major, as the “Valley of Death.”
“Numbers don’t lie,” Telemaco told Frankel. “There is a problem. And it’s catastrophic.”
As Frankel reports, 15 major league players and prospects have died in traffic accidents in their native Dominican Republic. And those are just the high-profile names that make the news and get the attention of the entire country. Auto accidents are an epidemic in the Dominican Republic, and the Real Sports report includes several disturbing clips of crashes occurring on city streets in which motorcyclists are hurled from their vehicles after being hit by cars and SUVs are sent spinning and turning over after high-speed collisions.
Public service campaigns are trying to get citizens to obey basic traffic laws (signals, speed limits, etc.), but there are no officers to enforce them after 7 p.m. Traffic lights go to flashing yellow. And the culture encourages drinking while driving. As Telemaco points out, it’s almost a point of pride among people.
Gas stations are stocked with beer and liquor. Bars even have drive-thru windows allowing drivers to pull up, order a beer or cocktail and go about their business. Meanwhile, an ER doctor Frankel speaks to says his hospital sees 50 to 60 traffic accident victims per day.
Feeling that perhaps he could have done more to prevent former teammates and players he’s known from being killed, Telemaco has taken it upon himself to educate the players he coaches at the Pirates academy. But is that nearly enough? And as we all know, you can drive safely, but that doesn’t account for the other drivers on the road, many of whom are far more reckless than they should be.
The latest episode of HBO’s Real Sports premieres at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday night.