Commuting in Atlanta continues to be a blood sport in 2021, a continuation from 2020′s increase in roadway fatality rates nationwide. Crashes cause most of the carnage and the delays, but a recent deadly shooting in the early hours of last Wednesday’s morning drive reminded motorists of other traffic culprits. Murders and chases have delayed and, worse, endangered drivers quite often in recent times. Add these to the string of selfish acts that make driving in this town like navigating a minefield.
“It felt like the I-85 bridge collapse,” 95.5 WSB morning drive Skycopter anchor Smilin’ Mark McKay said on the WSB Traffic Podcast just an hour after the I-85 crime scene concluded. “I tried to bring back memories of what that felt like.”
As Atlanta approaches the four-year anniversary of the massive fire under I-85 near the Piedmont Road underpass and the interstate’s subsequent collapse and rebuild, McKay urged others to remember how they navigated around that six-week closure. “They had their alternates - MARTA. They had to go to the surface streets to get around Northeast Atlanta. And that was put into play this morning,” McKay explained, before detailing the massive backups on I-85, GA-400, and the Buford-Spring Connector the shooting caused.
Stationed in the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center, McKay’s AM drive teammate, Ashley Frasca, heard Atlanta Police on looking for a shooting victim along I-85/southbound near the MARTA overpass, north of 17th Street.
“You have to have an ear for that, because you’re multitasking,” Frasca explained on our podcast. “When you first hear things you almost have to do a double-take, ‘Did I hear that right?’” Frasca immediately started searching the WSB Jam Cams in that area and found what they soon later learned was a fatal shooting investigation. Another one.
Last month, Brookhaven PD investigated a fatal shooting just up the road on I-85/northbound at North Druid Hills Road, shutting that down for a few hours on Thursday, January 14th. A bullet from that murder ricocheted off the nearby Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta building.
This time, APD dealt with a bullet-riddled car, a crime scene extended to nearby woods, a dead victim, another wounded at Grady Hospital, yellow crime tape across a busy freeway in the rush hour direction, and what they described as a premeditated shooting.
The road didn’t reopen until 9 a.m., meaning motorists closest to the scene didn’t move for over three hours. Deaths in traffic bring investigations, which bring closures, which bring hours wasted for many. Those deaths are almost always preventable.
Just two days before, McKay, Frasca, Mark Arum, and Veronica Harrell (our entire morning traffic team) dealt with an unbelievably deadly morning. In the hours after the Super Bowl, a crash I-285/eastbound (Outer Loop) near Moreland Avenue (Exit 53) killed four people and shut down the interstate for close over five hours.
While that investigation ensued in South DeKalb, someone hit and killed a tire changer I-285/northbound (Outer Loop) near LaVista Road in Tucker around 4 a.m. That blocked most of the freeway for most of the morning and both investigations caused intense backups.
That was all just this past week. On the Thursday of the week before, WSB’s PM drive Traffic Team and I covered a group of protestors trying to run onto the Downtown Connector (GSP stopped them before thing got too out of hand) and a police chase along Northside Drive that morphed into a foot chase off of Chappell Road. I flew over both of those oddities in the WSB Skycopter and they could have caused worse jams than they did. But the chaos continued past sunset.
“Myself and Mike Shields in the Traffic Center had already dealt with a few crashes. Things were rough, like a typical Thursday,” Alex Williams said on the podcast, before then explaining how they heard the protest activity on the police scanners.
Over an hour later, they heard something else on the scanners that fared far worse on the west side. “We learned that there had been some sort of another police chase,” Williams recalled about the large scene on MLK Jr. Drive near Bolton Road and the I-20 bridge, outside of I-285.
“That one ended up being a chase that resulted with a pedestrian being struck by a car. And, at the same time, we just had so much going on, we had this crash that had been lingering, and lingering, and lingering,” Williams detailed.
That crash sat on I-20/eastbound east of Fulton Industrial Boulevard (Exit 49). When I arrived in the Skycopter, I noticed that the wreck scene was right next to that MLK underpass, where a teenager laid dead in the middle of the street.
Cobb Police said that three armed robbery suspects from Mableton fled police, hit a car on the shoulder on I-20/eastbound, then bailed on foot. One got away, police arrested another, and a passing van on MLK Jr. Dr. hit and killed the third.
As we prepared to fly from that scene and land for the night, we learned of a rollover crash and litany of PD activity on I-285/southbound (Outer Loop) near Camp Creek Parkway (Exit 2) in East Point.
We spell all this out because we want everyone to take a deep breath.
“It is senseless and it is scary to a younger female, like me, driving in [to work] at 3 or 4 a.m. and some of the clubs are open,” Frasca said. “It’s scary to me to think that you’re not safe on the interstates.”
Then Frasca really brought home the point: “Your selfish decision and your overreaction affected tens of thousands of commuters today - and that happens a lot,” Frasca said to those responsible for last Wednesday’s shooting.
The aggression that early morning cost many people time, harmed the environment, sparked fear, and, worst of all, took a life.
But selfishness surfaces in far more mundane ways than rush hour murders. When we speed, check texts, drive tipsy, drive tired, or drive hungover (remember, five died on I-285 the morning after the Super Bowl) - we’re the shooters.
“Shooters” of any kind live in brief infamy, but, as Kendrick Lamar rapped in “Money Trees”, “...the one in front of the gun lives forever.” We don’t want to be either one. We want to live a long life of selflessness and there are few better places to cement that legacy than behind the wheel.
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 here on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.
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