Gridlock Guy: How 18 vehicles managed to collide on I-285

This 18-vehicle wreck shut down I-285/eastbound at the Chattahoochee River in Sandy Springs, after a heavy rain shower. Credit: Doug Turnbull, WSB Skycopter.
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This 18-vehicle wreck shut down I-285/eastbound at the Chattahoochee River in Sandy Springs, after a heavy rain shower. Credit: Doug Turnbull, WSB Skycopter.

Credit: Doug Turnbull

Credit: Doug Turnbull

Delays are becoming more widespread these days, as is the crash count and the undue amount of wrecks in the backup of initial ones. But rarely do we see the melee that broke out last Monday on I-285/eastbound (Inner Loop) just west of New Northside/Powers Ferry (Exit 22) in Sandy Springs. After heavy rain had plagued the Perimeter highway, a serious wreck shut down all lanes. As passersby noted and as the WSB Traffic Team saw from our Skycopter and cameras, the crash involved 18 vehicles. This would take a while.

“When the officers arrived, it was complete chaos,” Sandy Springs PD PIO Sergeant Salvador Ortega told the AJC and 95.5 WSB. “We had cars all over the roadway. We had an overturned vehicle.” Ortega noted that this crash broke loose at 4 p.m. and in the rain. Not a good recipe.

“The vehicle that caused this was driving a little bit too fast. He hydroplaned, lost control, and he flipped. Other vehicles behind him tried to avoid him and then that’s when they started crashing with each other.” Luckily, Ortega said, the unusually large crash did not cause major injuries.

Ortega said that many factors led to this calamitous, chain-reaction wreck. But many wrecks have some of these characteristics and do not lead to a dozen-and-a-half-car pileup. What made so many people wreck in this one?

Our WSB Jam Cam showed a line of vehicles wadded up in the left lanes of the road and then another conga-line-crash on the right. This seemed to indicate what Ortega said happened, “One of those factors was the vehicle flipping across the interstate,” Ortega explained. He also said that since many cars were out during rush hour and forced to avoid that flipping car - and they were on wet pavement - that caused so many to lose control and make contact.

Sandy Springs PD had to shut down all lanes of I-285/eastbound right at the Chattahoochee River bridge, just east of I-75, because of the scattered wreck scene and the debris field.

The WSB Traffic Team issued a traffic RED ALERT on our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App, so people would know of the closure.This actually helped guide officers, Ortega said, because initial 911 callers described it on the wrong side of the road. “You guys helped us locate the accident,” Ortega explained. “It wasn’t until I got the traffic notification from you guys, that we were able to know exactly where the accident was. Thank you to Triple Team Traffic for sending us that alert. We were able to get there quickly and keep more cars from crashing.”

All lanes stayed shut down for close to an hour and a half. Then officers opened three left lanes, after HERO units towed about half of the 18 vehicles from the left side of the road to the right shoulder. A company of wreckers had to pluck the worst-damaged of those rides one-by-one from the shoulder, a tedious task that didn’t finish until after 6 p.m. I-285/northbound was slow back to almost South Cobb Drive (Exit 15) in Smyrna. The I-285 delays also backed I-75/southbound up to the South 120 Loop (Exit 263).

And Oretga said that people shouldn’t be surprised to see more commutes drilled by bad wrecks. “That’s because people are not adapting to the traffic that is getting more congested,” Ortega observed. “People are still driving as fast as we were months ago, when the pandemic started and highways were empty. But now you’ve got the speed element combined with tons of cars on the roadway and we’re getting tons of crashes.”

A bit more care and patience might have saved a lot of people from having a terrible Monday. Some extra pause on wet pavement might have saved thousands from being stuck in gridlock. Ortega offered a final note on this disaster: “This serves as a good reminder to people: when it’s raining, slow down.”

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 .