Four separate crashes on Sacramento-area freeways have involved wrong-way drivers plowing head-on into other vehicles. This bizarre scenario has claimed the lives of 14 people, which has caused highway safety officials scrambling for answers.
Alcohol Linked to Two Crashes
Reports show that at least two of the four crashes involved alcohol. In January, a crash on I-80 claimed the lives of three teenagers. According to prosecutors, Aaron Jordon Caudillo was drunk, speeding, had his lights off, and was driving the wrong way when he caused the accident that claimed the three men’s lives.
April also saw a deadly wrong-way crash. According to reports, Elizabet Torres-Zela, 19, was driving the wrong way on Highway 50 in West Sacramento when she slammed into a pickup truck near Stockton Boulevard. The crash resulted in a fire. Torres-Zela, whose blood-alcohol level was .02 percent, was killed. This is more than two times the legal limit. Three men in the other vehicle were also killed in the crash.
In each of the two cases, officials noted that wrong-way drivers enter the freeway by mistakenly taking an off-ramp. According to data from the State CHP, most wrong-way freeway crashes involve drunk drivers. California Highway Patrol Officer Chad Hertzell stated that, “These are probably DUI drivers…We know that wrong-way drivers are often drunk, but I still can’t wrap my mind around being so inebriated that I could not tell if I was going the wrong way.” He also noted that wrong-way drivers typically drive in the fast lane because they mistakenly believe it is the slow right lane.
Crashes Prompt New Bill and Investigation
The most recent accident involved a Ford 150 pickup going the wrong way and slamming into a Lexus on Interstate 80. The accident occurred near Madison Avenue. When the crash occurred, the vehicles burst into flames, killing the driver of the pickup and the driver, Zahid Arshad, 25, and passenger, Nicholas Sharma, 24, in the Lexus. Earlier this month, a mother and her two teenage daughters were killed when their vehicle was hit head-on by a driver on Interstate 505. The wrong-way driver, a 36-year-old, was also killed.
Though alcohol has not been identified as a leading factor in these two crashes, the latest crash did prompt Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, “to find out what we can do now to prevent further loss of life.” The Assemblyman went on to say that, “I am angry and deeply saddened that three more lives were lost to another senseless wrong-way driving accident.” In response, Rodriguez has authored a bill, AB 162, which prompts the state Department of Transportation to study these and other wrong-way crashes to look for better safety measures that have worked in other states.
According to data compiled by the CHP, wrong-way freeway crashes only account for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all roadway fatalities in California. Until this recent spate of wrong-way crashes, only 49 wrong-way collisions have occurred on highways in California over the years 2011 to 2014. These crashes resulted in the deaths of 69 people. Along with these deaths, there have been even more wrong-way crashes, 237 to be exact, that have left 346 individuals with injuries. State officials are reviewing the information from these four crashes to determine if there are new or varying factors related to these incidents that should be considered. Office of Traffic Safety spokesman Chris Cochran stated that, “It may be a cluster rather than trend…But we have to wait and see.”
What to Do If You See a Wrong-Way Driver
Caltrans chief of traffic operations Tom Hallenbeck stated that the agency routinely reviews the signage and configurations at exit ramps that have been used by wrong-way drivers. They use this information to determine if any modifications need to be made that will further alert drivers that they are going the wrong way onto the freeway. Currently, freeway off-ramps are marked with “wrong way” signs and are lined with red road reflectors.
If you are driving on a freeway and notice a driver going the wrong way, CHP officials ask that you immediately pull as far to the right as you can and call 911 to alert officers to the driver’s location. Hertzell also encourages drivers who are on the freeway late at night to avoid the fast lane if possible. He also states that drivers should “keep your eyes down the road so you can anticipate any evasive action you may need to take.”
If you have been injured in a wrong-way crash or other accident that was not your fault, it is important that you speak with a personal injury attorney as soon as you are able to. Your attorney can help you build your personal injury case so you can gain just compensation for your damages.