Wrong-way crashes in forefront after 5 killed in Tampa

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Florida Highway Patrol is looking into a crash in Tampa on Sunday that killed five people, including University of South Florida fraternity brothers along Instate 275 in Tampa.

Video of the crash was taken by Jada Wright, a witness traveling in the other direction who saw an SUV heading the wrong way down the interstate.

The state is testing in South Florida and in Tallahassee to see if warnings can be sent when someone is going the wrong way along an interstate.

It's one way it is trying to improve safety on the roads, while also looking at better signage and engineering at entrance and exit ramps.

"As soon as I was about to, it crashed, and I started screaming and screaming," Wright said. "I can still hear it. It is like a loud crack crushing noise."

In northeast Florida wrong-way crashes are not uncommon. FHP does not keep statistics on them, but Channel 4 records show there have been nine in the area since 2008. Most have been fatal.

One of the most recent occurred last year on Interstate 295, when the driver of a car was driving the wrong way and hit a bus filled with baseball players from Tennessee. He was killed. The people on the bus were not injured.

In 2010, St. Johns County Deputy James Anderson was killed in a head-on crash on then State Road 9A on the Southside. The driver in that crash pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter and is serving time in prison.

"Having been a patrol officer and monitoring one-way streets, you will see a lot of it, and majority of it most of the time is due to impairment due to alcohol," Channel 4 safety analyst Ken Jefferson said of wrong-way crashes.

Statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board agrees its studies show most of these types of accidents occur when people have been drinking, and the majority happen after midnight. Most of the drivers range in age from 20-38. But the NTSB also found a number of drivers older than 70 involved in these crashes, and alcohol was not a factor in them.

FHP said in northeast Florida, these accidents are somewhat different. People are not entering the interstate the wrong way. They do something else.

"What we have seen in our area, the few occurrences that we had, is where the drivers are actually making a U-turn on the interstate for whatever reason, and they are traveling the opposite direction on our highways," FHP Sgt. Dylan Bryan said.

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