Wrong-way I-295 driver charged with DUI

JSO: David Thigpen, 55, drove wrong way on highway for more than 6 miles


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 55-year-old man was charged with DUI and fleeing police after driving the wrong way down Interstate 295 for more than 6 miles Monday afternoon, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

David Thigpen of Hawthorne was also charged with driving on the wrong side of a divided highway and having an open container of alcohol. He was released Tuesday.

According to police, Thigpen got on I-295 the wrong way at the Philips Highway interchange and was spotted around the 9B interchange driving north in the southbound lanes in his maroon station wagon.

There are two signs at that off ramp from I-295 onto Philips Highway that say "Do Not Enter," and two more signs a couple hundred feet further down that say "Wrong Way."

Thigpen rode along the edge of the left lane in the grassy median, at one point going about 40 mph against oncoming traffic until police were able to pull him over at the Gate Parkway overpass.

"The speed limit out there is 65. People are doing that and then some a lot, and this guy's coming the wrong way at a good rate of speed as well," JSO spokesman Christian Hancock said. "He's driving just like you normally would in the emergency lane."

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of David Thigpen
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of David Thigpen

Officers and Florida Highway Patrol troopers who pulled him over asked Thigpen (pictured) if he needed medical treatment. He answered, "No, I've just been drinking," according to the report.

When they asked why he didn't stop when he saw the police were behind him, he answered, "I didn't feel like it."

He failed field sobriety tests and almost fell down while performing it, the report said.

Police say they found two bottles of vodka in the car. One bottle was empty and one bottle was three-quarters empty.

Thigpen's car was still in the median of I-295 Tuesday, near where he was stopped.

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said that the area where police say Thigpen got on the wrong way is correctly marked.

"It's properly marked," Smith said. "You can see where it's marked 'Wrong Way' or 'Do Not Enter.' There are signs there, but a person that's under the influence, they may not notice that."

Smith said that an easy tip for drivers is to look at the reflectors in the road. Drivers should see white or yellow. If they're seeing red, they're going the wrong way. Police said drivers who noticed Thigpen Monday did the right thing.

"If we can get traffic slowing down because he's approaching the traffic, that's the best scenario," Hancock said. "We don't want to lock up our brakes and cause a crash by trying to let this guy know he's going the wrong direction. Flashing lights would be an outstanding thing to do, but we want to keep everybody safe."

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, troopers responded to 52 wrong-way crashes in Northeast Florida in 2014 and have responded to 19 in the Jacksonville area this year. For the state, troopers responded to 2,136 wrong-way crashes in 2014 and 1,119 so far this year.

JSO said it works with the Florida Department of Transportation to make sure there is proper signage at major intersections. If drivers notice an intersection where there aren't enough signs or signs are missing from where they had been posted, they can call JSO at 904-630-0500 or FDOT at 800-207-8236 to try to get new signs posted.

Initially, Thigpen was reported by police as being a disoriented, elderly driver.

Brandon McCaffrey captured video of Thigpen driving the wrong way on I-295 and posted it to Facebook (see above).