Gridlock Guy: A harrowing firsthand account of a wrong-way driver

Combined ShapeCaption
A wrong-way driver in a stolen car crashed in the express lane on I-75 in Henry County on Friday, May 28, 2021. WSB 24-hour Traffic Center

Credit: WSB 24-hour Traffic Center

A wrong-way driver in a stolen car crashed in the express lane on I-75 in Henry County on Friday, May 28, 2021. WSB 24-hour Traffic Center

Credit: WSB 24-hour Traffic Center

Combined ShapeCaption
A wrong-way driver in a stolen car crashed in the express lane on I-75 in Henry County on Friday, May 28, 2021. WSB 24-hour Traffic Center

Credit: WSB 24-hour Traffic Center

Credit: WSB 24-hour Traffic Center

Plans change quickly and snap decisions by some can gravely affect others, as one man and his family learned en route to vacation on the Friday before Memorial Day.

“Heading down to Hilton Head. We use those South (Metro) Express Lanes,” Mike from East Cobb, who didn’t want to use his last name, said. Mike and his family were part of the thousands that filtered through Metro Atlanta last Friday, as the Memorial Day exodus crowded the freeways. They hopped in the Peach Pass Lanes in Henry County to save some time around the backups in the main I-75/southbound thru lanes.

Mike had his head in his laptop finishing up some last minute work in the passenger seat when something in the Express Lanes near the Jonesboro Road interchange caught his eye. “I did not see the car enter the Express Lanes. They were already in the lane,” he said. “I felt the car slow down a little bit and I was like, ‘This is odd that traffic is slowing in the Express Lanes.’ Usually it moves pretty good, even on those getaway days,” Mike explained.

Mike’s right. The tolled, reversible Peach Pass Express Lanes system typically moves with delay-free ease, unless there are problems. And were there ever this Friday.

“All of a sudden — we were in the right-hand lane — and saw a car half in the left emergency lane and half in the left lane. At first, when I looked up, I thought, ‘That’s a stopped car there, all bashed up.’ And then I realized it was coming our direction! And so everyone was trying to get out of the way, over to the right.”

Different circumstances lead to wrong-way driving on interstates. Some people are highly under the influence and situationally unaware of what they’re doing. Others are elderly or confused and accidentally enter a freeway via an exit ramp. And, still, others may be having a mental health crisis and are suicidal. A girl in my high school class died right after our 2004 graduation at the hands of a suicidal driver on the Downtown Connector. That driver survived.

Some wrong-way drivers are running from the law and will desperately, selfishly, and recklessly endanger themselves and others to avoid capture. The errant vehicle Mike saw in the Henry County reversible toll lanes was just that.

“HCPD was pursuing a stolen vehicle that was just involved in a hit-and-run accident in the City of Locust Grove,” Henry County PD Captain Randy Lee told the AJC and 95.5 WSB. “When the suspect vehicle entered the Express Lanes going the wrong way, HCPD cancelled the pursuit. A short time later, Georgia State Patrol was in the area and discovered that a collision occurred involving the suspect vehicle around the 221 mile marker.” The suspect wrecked just after Mike and his family saw them. Scary.

And that wreck impacted someone else’s plans, Captain Lee said. “There were only complaints of injuries by the driver of the other vehicle that was hit. The driver of the suspect vehicle was not injured. Both vehicles were disabled and had to be towed from the scene.” This could have gone much worse for many others.

Mike knew that the wrong-way vehicle was not just accidentally driving in the lanes.

“The car was pretty bashed up. The windshield was really damaged. The hood had heavy damage on it as well. I don’t know how the person could see where they were going.” Mike and his family then realized that for this car to have entered the lanes, it would have had to have driven through the big, metal gates at the start of the lane system. “This wasn’t a mistake. This person kept going,” Mike said of the multiple, large metal arms built to prevent just what he saw. “I don’t know how they did that. I was thinking, ‘This is someone who’s pretty motivated.’”

Mike saw police cars trying to stay with this vehicle in the northbound regular lanes of I-75. The officers wisely didn’t try to drive the wrong way themselves in the lanes to catch the suspect. That’s when Mike realized there was a chase, granted, the fleeing driver was not moving extremely quickly in their damaged ride.

Mike saw this perp streak right past him, his wife, and his kids. Did he have time to be scared for their lives? “

It happened so fast that I don’t think there was even that time to kind of think about that, my life flashing before my eyes. It was on us and past us and we’re like, ‘Wait a minute, that car’s going the wrong way.’ And then it was just processing how did that person get there and why.”

The crash and ensuing investigation shut down the entire I-75/southbound Express Lanes for about an hour, right around 3 p.m. the Friday before Memorial Day. That loss of capacity absolutely jammed I-75/southbound from Morrow to McDonough. Commuters felt the ripple effects of one driver’s horrible decision for miles and many extra minutes.

On the Sunday before Memorial Day, a wrong-way driver caused a fiery wreck on GA-400 in Forsyth County, killing two, including the 100-mph, opposite-way driver, Silas Brown. The 31-year-old Brown was a star of a BET reality show five years ago. The other dead driver, 22-year-old Tarik Kendell, was on his way home.

Whether the endings are tragedies or near-misses, the effects of reckless and selfish drivers go way deeper than they expect. And it’s all a reminder of how much more we should all be paying attention on our drives, as conditions can instantly change. Thank goodness Mike’s wife and the people around her were.


Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.