Local News

Durham wrong-way crash serves as sign of bigger problem in NC

Posted March 22

— The crash that killed two people and injured others on Interstate 85 near East Club Boulevard in Durham Monday morning serves as a sign of a bigger problem.

In the last 16 years, there have been more than 500 wrong way crashes on North Carolina's freeways and interstates.Those accidents killed 145 people and injured 643 more — numbers that spurred the DOT into action.

The Department of Transportation is currently involved in a number of studies, at the state level and internationally.

In North Carolina, the DOT said there aren't that many wrong-way crashes. But it's a big concern because the ones they do have are so often deadly.

Robbin Williams' cousin, 49-year-old Aretha Chavis, got on I-85 in Durham Monday morning, going the wrong way. A cross marks the spot where two people lost their lives.

"As soon as we laid the cross, we just all broke down crying," Williams said. "Just to see the debris and stuff still on the road. It was so hard, especially with her kids there and her grandkids."

Police said she hit an SUV with nine people in it. Both Chavis and the other driver, 29-year-old Jerry Alamo of Rhode Island, died instantly. All others in the SUV were injured.

Kevin Lacy with the State DOT said they're involved in multiple studies to prevent wrong-way crashes.

In known trouble spots , they've added reflective strips to get drivers' attention. They're also working on initiatives that can use technology to detect wrong-way drivers.

"It's not hundreds or thousands of crashes," Lacy said. "It's a very small number of crashes, but when they do occur, they're pretty tragic."

Tragic accidents that Williams hopes no other family will experience. She said the more the DOT can do better.

"So ths wouldn't happen to another family," Lacy said. "There's two families lost here, not just our family, but another family. And I want to give my condolences and prayers to that family also."

Of the eight others injured in the crash, one still has critical injuries. The other seven have been released.

Police haven't been able to figure out for sure where the wrong-way driver got on the highway around here.


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  • Brenda Lawrence Mar 23, 3:41 p.m.
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    Linda, you are 100% correct! Those red wrong way signs have scared me several times. They are absolutely not positioned correctly.

    "At night, it makes it worse. Those wrong way signs add to the confusion in some areas as they are visible when you are going the right way and might scare you into a mistake."

  • Norman Lewis Mar 23, 1:02 p.m.
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    You can't overcome the effects of alcohol on an impaired driver, and you can't overcome the effects of a vision or judgement impaired driver with a safety plan. Show me a case of a wrong way driver where they were not impaired in some way. in 40 years of driving, I have never turned the wrong way on a highway, too many wrong way signs, red sided reflecting strips on the road and the most important thing, dozens of cars heading right at you. No competent driver could miss those things. Stop blaming the road.

  • Linda Levine Mar 23, 9:32 a.m.
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    The roads are very poorly designed in many areas. They did changes on the cheap in stead of focusing on doing them right. You have lots of areas where it is not clear that an area is suddenly divided by a small median. At night, it makes it worse. Those wrong way signs add to the confusion in some areas as they are visible when you are going the right way and might scare you into a mistake.

  • Catherine Edwards Mar 23, 9:26 a.m.
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    Most of these incidences seem to happen at night. What is it about the ramp markings that don't warn well enough that they are getting on the highway the wrong way?

    While it is driver error there does need to be the research into why did they err? What can be done to reduce the errors?

  • Jeff Freuler Mar 23, 9:25 a.m.
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    View quoted thread

    Big difference in flying airplanes and driving cars as so many more factors come into play.

  • Edward Anderson Mar 23, 9:17 a.m.
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    I wonder how NC compares to the rest of the nation for these wrong-way incidents? That might have been an interesting piece of additional journalism, WRAL.

  • Megan Goodson Mar 23, 8:11 a.m.
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    I have never understood how people can get on a road going the wrong way. Obviously people do as seen by this horrible accident. But I just don't get it, if traffic is going one way you follow it.

    My condolences to both families.

  • Tom Baker Mar 22, 10:39 p.m.
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    Nobody disputes that this was a driver error. Most airplane crashes are caused by pilot errors, but yet we spend a lot of effort and money on systems trying to reduce their numbers. What is wrong with applying the same thought process to vehicular accidents?

  • Jeff Freuler Mar 22, 9:47 p.m.
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    It boils down to driver error PERIOD. Stop trying to blame something else.