Gridlock Guy: Utter tragedy on I-75 a chilling reminder this summer driving season

The heat, splashes, relaxation - euphoria - of a mountain summit and the seemingly endless potential of the dog days of summer in the lush valley below - crashed in a jarring and tragic heap on I-75 in Bartow County Sunday evening, May 19th.

A Kia carrying a father, mother, daughter, and two sons crossed the center median on I-75/northbound north of Red Top Mountain Road (Exit 285) and careened into oncoming traffic. The cable barrier did not stop it from hitting oncoming Toyota and Chevy SUVs. A Hyundai SUV rear-ended the Chevy. A commercial vehicle also struck the mangled mess, officials said.

The family of five in the Kia lost both parents - Dakarai and Erin Mason, 14-year-old Brandon Crawford, and, days later six-year-old Titus. Five-year-old Noah is expected to make a full recovery from his injuries but never from the sudden loss of his entire nucleus.

The Masons were returning from a church event.

Noah’s mom, Erin, worked a civilian job for Holly Springs PD, sparking a wave of support from the emergency responder community. Family and friends have set up a GoFundMe for Noah’s medical expenses and future.

The impact also killed 21-year-old Chevy driver Aimee Odom. Her friends told Ch. 2 Action News she was en route to a graduation party.

The crash injured several others and shut the freeway down for nearly four hours, causing extreme backups in both directions.

This is a pulsating, heartbreaking alert of the human toll that is the tragic summation of our tiny mistakes in automobiles.

Most of our single errors or misjudgments can pass without consequence. The biggest meltdowns are often the result of a series of these decisions.

Memorial Day begins what AAA terms the “100 Deadliest Days” between the beginning of the summer travel season and Labor Day. New teen drivers are out of classes and have time on their hands. More people make road trip vacations. There are endless numbers of parties - and intoxicated driving. And road crews are often changing the topography of familiar commutes.

Good weather means more traffic - in and out of cars. Afternoon popup storms and the subsequent sunset-glare on waterlogged roads ratchet up the danger.

Teen driving safety should be top-of-mind for Atlantans even more so than in recent years. The Lakeside High School student body lost five members in crashes this past school year. A horrific crash on Westside Parkway in Alpharetta killed an Alpharetta High School senior and two 18-year-old UGA students, the latter two freshly on summer break. This was just a few days before the Cartersville crash.

A crash in Cherokee County killed a 15-year-old, when they crossed the center median of Highway 92 just days after the Alpharetta wreck.

The common denominators in the Lakseside, Alpharetta, and Cherokee wrecks are youth and speed.

No matter who is at fault in a crash - whether they were reckless, inexperienced, or victims of cruel circumstance (which usually means the ineptitude of someone else) - lives are shattered and hearts are broken.

The message remains the same every major travel season (and year round): people should take more pauses before driving. They should ask if they are tired or sober enough to transport their family. They should consider the risk of doing 20 mph over the speed limit. They should really ask if the reward is worth the risk of answering that text or changing that song behind the wheel.

None of this is to say that every driver that ends up ensnared in an automobile tragedy has to own some part of the blame. Tires blow. Traffic stops on a dime. Weather changes instantly. Things happen. But the vast, vast majority of the world’s traffic deaths are completely avoidable. People should scrub “accident” from the driving vernacular.

Every day on these streets is dangerous. But summer offers its own risks, especially to our precious Gen-Z and Gen-Alpha future-holders. As we saw on I-75 in Cartersville on a muggy May Sunday, the scope of risk spares no demographic. Experienced and inexperienced drivers perished. A professional driver got swept into the melee. The crash snuffed a college aged driver’s future. And a tender five-year-old will only have memories of the family he hugged just days ago.

We all know this. But no drink, text, or overnighter is worth what the world lost on I-75.

Drive responsibly in this lush, green valley and godspeed.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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