Two weeks after she survived a head-on collision that killed two others, Beyonica Watts acknowledges she and her friend behind the wheel were drunk and heading the wrong way on Ga. 400.
But she believes blame for the crash, which fatally injured her friend and the man in the other car, extends beyond the vehicle. The Kennesaw woman believes the security at the Atlanta bar where she and her friend, Frampere Ingle, were drinking should have taken away the keys.
“The accident could have been stopped if, No. 1, (security) would have locked us up for public intoxication,” Watts told Channel 2 Action News. “I want people to know … this cannot solely be blamed on Frampere Ingle.”
But that account does not wash with the family of Eric Hanks, driver of the other car who was killed in the crash.
“It’s amazing to me how people try to shift the blame to somebody else,” said Hanks’ mother, Deborah Hanks. “You can’t erase the fact that they were going the wrong way and they were drunk.”
The crash, which occurred Aug. 15 at about 4:15 a.m., was among three fatal head-on wrecks this month on metro Atlanta highways, a huge jump above the one or two a year that typically occur.
Hanks, 44, was driving to his Atlanta home after dropping off his cousin in Decatur after they had been relaxing at Hanks’ Buckhead-area home, according to his mother. He was driving north on Ga. 400, preparing to enter the Lenox Road exit, when he collided with the car containing Watts and Ingle, Atlanta police said.
According to Watts, who is about 21 according to the police record of the crash, the two women had been drinking in a club in southwest Atlanta. The club security took the keys, but handed them over to an acquaintance of theirs, who drove them away from the club. But Watts told Channel 2 that the designated driver only drove a short way before she returned the keys to Ingle and left in a different car with some other friends.
“(She) dropped us off at a Shell station and left us to fend on our own,” Watts said.
Watts said she and Ingle got lost for more than an hour driving “on and off the highway, on and off the highway.” She said they did not see any “do not enter” sign as they got on Ga. 400 at Lenox Road and proceeded to drive south in the northbound lanes. Within about a half mile, the duo realized they were driving the wrong way and decided to pull over.
“We were this close to the emergency lane when we wrecked,” Watts said.
Police said Watts suffered pelvic injuries that put her in the hospital. Neither she nor Ingle were wearing seat belts. Ingle, 24, of Marietta, was pronounced dead at Grady Memorial Hospital. Hanks was pronounced dead at the scene. Ga. 400 northbound traffic was shut down for 3 1/2 hours, according to the police report.
Attempts to reach the family of Ingle were unsuccessful, and calls were not returned by the bar.
Police said the Lenox Road on and off ramps are clearly marked.
“I don’t think it’s confusing. But, if you are intoxicated, it could be confusing,” Atlanta Officer Kim Jones said at the time of the crash. “There are signs posted on every exit when you’re getting on and off. Most exits that lead to the freeway tell you if you’re traveling the wrong way.”
Hanks was going through a happy time in his life, his mother said. He was recently operating a mobile eatery on Candler Road across from South DeKalb Mall. He had picked out a spot for his first restaurant.
His fiancee, Gladys Ferguson, leveled blame on both Ingles and Watts.
“She’s an adult, and she’s responsible to make responsible decisions,” Ferguson said. “As a result of her bad judgment, I have lost a loved one.”
Ferguson added, “If she’s not going to take some responsibility, then this could happen again.”