Gridlock Guy: Another case of the burnouts — and this stunt is worse

A united sense of community and mission needed to tackle the many tentacles of this deadly virus

Not surprisingly, it’s happened again. A group of self-centered daredevils shut down an Atlanta interstate in an extraordinarily dangerous and intentional way.

A group of a dozen people, maybe more, used their caravan of souped-up, late model sports cars and sedans to shut down I-85/southbound just north of I-285 (Exit 95) in DeKalb County on Saturday night, March 28. This was very similar to the ridiculous stunt one month prior on I-285/eb (Outer Loop) just prior to the Atlanta Airport Tunnel.

But life in America and around the world has turned sideways in that short span.

What was just an ignorant, arrogant, illegal, and reckless display in February is now all of those modifiers, but so much more. This temporary, joy-riding shutdown of a critical freeway showcases a fractured sense of community and mission.

From all the doom and fear that have settled upon our society has come some rays of hope: community. The large majority of Atlantans — and Americans — have taken measures to shelter in place, socially distance themselves, donate money and supplies, and repurpose their businesses to combat both the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic drought. In fact, news organizations are seeking these heroic and heartwarming stories to balance out the grim tone of most of the rest of the headlines.

Another positive refraction from this conflicted and confluent prism of death and life in this news cycle has been that traffic has lightened. As we discussed in this column last week, the data back up what our eyes (and headlights) are seeing: there are no more traditional rush hours.

Explore» RELATED: Gridlock Guy: I-285 burnouts as dangerous as our everyday driving

The new, less restrictive reality on the daytime commutes is welcome and necessary for those making essential trips. But it’s become a snare for those driving recklessly with this new-found wind behind their backs and accounted for some nasty wrecks. Planning one’s commute now is still crucial, because delays and closures may be less than before, but they now are far more unpredictable.

And no one that Saturday night in Spaghetti Junction would have predicted to run into a complete closure of I-85/southbound. However momentary it might have been, these thrillseekers put their adrenaline fixes ahead of any other mission that night. Theirs is a fractured sense of mission.

In last week’s piece, we covered why GDOT isn’t “seizing the day” of this light traffic to do more road work. They want to keep the roads open for first responders, freight, healthcare workers, and others essential to the operation of everyday life. And we discussed how our driving habits these days need to merge with that same mission: keep the roads open.

With organizations both private and public taking big steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, some police departments are not even pulling over speeders or responding to non-emergencies in person. But DeKalb County does not fall into those ranks and, in fact, is very concerned about the phenomenon of organized stunts like the one on I-85.

Explore» RELATED: WATCH: Traffic stops on I-285 as drivers do burnouts, doughnuts in tunnel

“Yes, we are aware, and the DeKalb County Police Department takes speed racing very seriously, as speed is one of the top contributing factors in all of our traffic-related fatalities,” DeKalb PD spokesperson Michaela Vincent told the AJC and WSB. “We have coordinated a number of traffic-enforcement details targeting both drag racing and illegal activity involving ATVs and dirt bikes on our roadways and inside of DeKalb County parks.”

Vincent continued, “The public has taken notice of our efforts and greatly appreciated it. We will continue to monitor and enforce illegal street racing in DeKalb County. If anyone has information, we would appreciate them letting us know, considering one of the challenges we face is knowing when and where these types of events will occur, so we can effectively plan our response.”

Not only did the participants in the “Spaghetti Junction Smoke Show” shut down the freeway dangerously, they also stood closely together, shot off fireworks from launchers in their hands, and even gawked at and mocked an ambulance or fire truck passing in the opposite direction. They knew what they were doing was wrong. At the time of this writing, no arrests of this crowd have been made, Vincent said.

People definitely organize these events, and there certainly are those out there who don’t participate but know about them. If stifling these highly dangerous and logistics-halting closures wasn’t of high public importance before (they should have been), then stopping them now should be. Take action.

A united sense of community and mission are going to be pillars in how we tackle the many tentacles of this deadly virus. Shutting down interstates for no reason, and in a dangerous way at that, is not something to be celebrated or condoned. We, the community, implore those involved in enabling this putrid behavior to stop.

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