Gridlock Guy: An I-285 crash unlike any many have seen

Everyone in this seven-vehicle crash that saw a big rig and work truck overturn on I-285/eb near Powers Ferry survived, on September 13, 2023. Credit: Doug Turnbull/WSB Skycopter

Credit: Doug Turnbull/WSB Skycopter

Credit: Doug Turnbull/WSB Skycopter

Everyone in this seven-vehicle crash that saw a big rig and work truck overturn on I-285/eb near Powers Ferry survived, on September 13, 2023. Credit: Doug Turnbull/WSB Skycopter

A driver for any number of years in Atlanta traffic has seen a lot and probably heard it all. Trucks overturn all the time. Large debris fields are not all that uncommon. There are chases, shootings, spectacular and speed-fueled wrecks, road-work jams, and flooding.

Sometimes the combination of these awful, angering and tragic externalities creates something rarely or never seen.

This was the case last Wednesday after 5:30 p.m. in Sandy Springs, when a big rig that we later learned was carrying 40,000 pounds of frozen chicken flipped over. This shut down I-285/eastbound (Inner Loop) entirely just west of New Northside Drive/Powers Ferry Road (Exit 22) for more than two hours. Multiple right lanes remained blocked until around 11 p.m.

But the story here is not just another tractor trailer flipping over or that it was carrying chicken. This wasn’t an open trailer that slopped chicken innards and slickened a road, which happens sometimes in these parts.

The arrangement of the other vehicles is something that I have never seen in more than 19 years of reporting Atlanta traffic. Our pilot, who has been watching traffic scenes as a police officer or pilot for more than 30 years, said he had never seen anything like it either.

Amidst the strewn boxes that had flown from the semi’s ruptured trailer, a white work van was on its side. A black vehicle had somehow found itself backwards and nosed into the roof of the laid-over tractor trailer’s cab. And the cab’s nose found itself pushed against the driver’s side of another vehicle, whose side airbags evidenced the impact.

This was certainly critical or fatal, at first glance, each of us in the WSB Skycopter and Smilin’ Mark McKay and Mike Shields in our 24-Hour Traffic Center thought.

Miraculously, Sandy Springs PD Sergeant Matthew McGinnis said, it was not.

“There are injuries but none are life-threatening. The injured were transported to local hospitals,” McGinnis told the AJC and 95.5 WSB via email, as I covered this melee live.

We also speculated from above that there was a possibility, given the odd angle of the car nosed into the big rig’s roof, that this was a wrong-way crash. The scene was less than a half-mile from the Powers Ferry exit ramp. Not so, McGinnis said.

It was arguably worse, he explained. “The tractor trailer was at fault. He hit a car while following too closely and started a seven-vehicle wreck.” So, besides the four vehicles I described, three others crunched together.

A typical PM drive took an awful turn for a handful of people and thousands of others’ plans changed, as we issued a traffic RED ALERT for the area. Many did not move on I-285/northbound/eastbound for two hours. That stoppage snarled I-75 traffic in Cobb County, especially on the southbound side between Marietta and I-285. The adjoining side streets, especially Akers Mill Road, Powers Ferry Road, and Interstate North Parkway, all quickly filled with people lucky enough to squeeze out of the stoppage.

Drivers trying to avoid the closure began jamming I-75/southbound, as they negotiated the single-lane, hairpin ramp to I-85/northbound, then slowed I-85 heading north to GA-400.

One item we cannot ignore is that the professional driver, the one paid to drive with acuity, is the one who caused this potentially life-altering disaster.

Regardless of anyone’s experience level, however, only one small mistake, one distraction, or one bad judgment can unearth a whole world of hurt.

We discussed the fragility of life in this space last week. Now, yet another example of the razor-thin, gray edge between life and death materializes, and in a big way.

The big rig driver and the others scarily swept up in this frozen chicken crash survived, unlike the five teens in that terrible Gwinnett County crash on Labor Day. The spectacle of this I-285 crash was much worse, thankfully, than the results.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at