On Air Now

Listen Now

Weather

cloudy-day
80°
Showers
H 82° L 70°
  • cloudy-day
    80°
    Current Conditions
    Showers. H 82° L 70°
  • rain-day
    82°
    Today
    Showers. H 82° L 70°
  • partly-cloudy-tstorms-day
    86°
    Tomorrow
    Chance of T-storms. H 86° L 71°
Listen
Pause
Error

News on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

Listen
Pause
Error

Traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

Listen
Pause
Error

Weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

    This is shaping up as being the summer of the American road trip. With COVID-19 concerns prompting many to travel by car instead of plane, we could all use a refresher course in the most fundamental theme of driving education: defensive driving. Defensive driving very simply is driving in a way that takes the safety of yourself and others into equal consideration. This mindset also demands that a driver never assume others around them are doing the same. If all drivers took on this cautious and proactive yoke, the roads would be far safer. WSB Triple Team Traffic’s Ashley Frasca approached me with the idea of doing this column and polling some of our team to get different perspectives. Frasca’s point of view is worth hearing, as she has a 40-minute, early-morning commute from Holly Springs to WSB’s studios in Midtown. “I think one of the biggest things that keeps me safe on the roads in those early hours is driving away from the pack,” Frasca said. “I slightly increase or back off my speed, if necessary, to ensure that I’m not driving right around other cars. I think keeping a large ‘bubble’ around your car gives you ample time to react to anything that may happen.” So Frasca helps create room for error for both others and herself. And her morning drive colleague Smilin’ Mark McKay echoes that sentiment. “(Maintaining distance) saved me at least a couple of times,” McKay said, “including on I-85/northbound north of 17th Street in Midtown Atlanta when a crash occurred three to four vehicles in front of me in lane three. I was quickly able to change lanes and avoid the mishap.” McKay steered clear of the problem in front of him because he was not tailgating that wrecking gaggle. He was also very attentive, with his eyes ahead. But McKay said drivers can maneuver more defensively by keeping their heads on swivels. “Use your side and interior mirrors in a constant sweep with your eyes,” McKay explained. “Be aware of who is around and behind you, so as not to be surprised. Don’t rely solely on the automatic side warning lights now found on newer vehicles. It’s easy to forget the basics of being behind the wheel and to let technology take over.” The new driving aids on vehicles have made driving more effortless. The blindspot indicator lights that McKay mentioned can help train drivers not to check that blindspot or mirror themselves. Turn-by-turn navigation dumbs down the need for the driver to know when they need to get over and turn or exit, because the app can just say when. Relinquishing control of the functions of driving is inverse to the notion of driving defensively. This summertime weather pattern makes for plenty of mishaps on the road. Pop-up storms can be intense, sudden, and a perfect recipe for disaster. Afternoon drive reporter Mike Shields sees these storms and wrecks often on his watch. “Slow down when the water comes down. Hydroplaning is not only dangerous for one driver but surrounding drivers in other vehicles,” Shields, a former police officer explained. “Never hit the brakes or gas if you begin to hydroplane.” Then Shields really dug in on the defensive part of his advice: “Hydroplaning can mostly be prevented if you slow down on wet roads. We see this occurring over and over, in many instances, in the same spots.” Those routine hydroplaning hot zones to which Shields is referring are places where water tends to accumulate in heavy rain. I-20/westbound near Candler Road in DeKalb County, for example, is always a place we watch when rain falls. Knowing ahead of time where some of these spots are on one’s commute is another great way to be proactive and cautiously approach those zones. That would be a very defensive method. Frasca sums up her view behind the wheel — an example we all should follow: “The older I’ve become, and in large part due to the things I see in this job, I’ve become a much more defensive driver! Especially being on the interstates so often, I drive as if any car, any driver, at any time, will lose control, lose a tire, glance down at their phone, swerve, or change lanes and not see me. I believe that driving attentively, courteously, and alert is the safest thing you can do.” Following every letter of the law and the driver’s manual does not make someone a good driver. A layer of consciousness above the rules is required to really drive safely and smoothly. Applying the above defensive driving tips will make that summer road trip much safer for everyone. 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.
  • Let’s play hopscotch to cover a lot of traffic ground this week. The summer driving pattern has arrived As spring has turned to summer, the difference between the seasonal changes in driving patterns are not as defined. Usually the spring and fall see big booms in traffic volume, and then traffic dies down during the winter and summer holidays. Since the coronavirus essentially cancelled spring, the differences between spring and summer driving are far less. If anything, they are swinging to the inverse, as more places open in the early summer stretch and people take to the roads. While more people are on the roads, traffic volume is still 10-20% below what volume in 2019 was at the same time. But one area that is looking very close to the “old normal” is I-75 in Henry County. Both directions have been slowing during PM drive in varying degrees trying to clear the McDonough exits, especially later in the week. As more people travel to and from Florida, these delays could only worsen. And this is all absent of any wrecks in the perilous I-75 and I-675 interchange we covered last week.  PM drive is definitely seeing more traffic delays than AM drive, with I-75/85/southbound through Downtown Atlanta, I-85/northbound leaving I-285 into Norcross, and parts of I-75/northbound and I-575/northbound northwest of town seeing the most routine backups. Still, those backups are not nearly as close to the ones pre-pandemic. Another dog-days driving pattern is the discipline of driving through pop-up summer storms. Not only can they be intense, but they also come and go quickly. Summertime driving, particularly in the afternoons, can include driving in sunshine, then heavy rain and wind, and then back into blinding sunshine reflecting off of slippery, wet pavement. This can be extremely distracting and hazardous and has already happened several afternoons and evenings in the last couple of weeks. A watermelon RED ALERT Tuesday morning commuters on I-75/northbound leaving northwest Atlanta needed some thick skin. A vehicle hit a watermelon truck before 8 a.m. on I-75/northbound near Cumberland Boulevard (Exit 258), and melons cracked and spilled all over the freeway. The ensuing cleanup of the sticky pulp shut down the interstate for close to an hour, making quite the unexpected outbound jam. An internet search on the subject unearthed multiple watermelon truck crashes on Atlanta’s roads in the last few years. 42,000 pounds of watermelons spilled onto the I-75/northbound ramp to I-285/westbound in Clayton County in 2015. And dozens of melons spilled from a truck onto the I-85/northbound ramp to I-985/northbound in Gwinnett in 2017. That cleanup also blocked that ramp for quite a while. GA-400 ramp closed ... sort of GDOT has closed the GA-400/northbound ramp to Abernathy Road/westbound (Exit 5B) — the ramp that traffic takes toward Sandy Springs. This is part of the redesign of that interchange into a diverging diamond interchange (DDI) as part of the larger Transform I-285/GA-400 project. DDIs are in operation at several interchanges around Atlanta and are meant to eliminate left-hand turns across oncoming traffic. This decreases crashes and helps alleviate some delays in those busy intersections. While this ramp has closed, motorists shouldn’t fear that they suddenly cannot go west. The 5A ramp will still be open to motorists to choose to go in both directions, instead of just eastbound. If traffic were heavier, this forcing of all traffic onto one ramp would be a bigger issue. 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.
  • The headline alone might cause a few groans or closed pages. But in light of the extreme tensions and racial discussions of this dark time, now is the time to explore a theme that I’ve only become in touch with about myself in recent years. We each carry implicit biases and subconscious attitudes that affect our everyday behavior, including how we analyze situations behind the wheel. Getting in touch with some of these won’t necessarily eliminate them. But this thought exercise should at least steer us toward acting with intention before a more visceral gut reaction. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: The traffic temperature as some commerce resumes One reason that these biases can flare up even more behind the wheel is because we carry less empathy, in general, while driving. This is because the people in surrounding vehicles are just avatars surrounded by glass and steel. And since we also are in our own “glass cases of emotion” we usually have plenty of room to vent and fume in ways that we never would if that same driver were to cut in front of us in line or grab the last pack of toilet paper. We also almost never actually know the person that cuts us off, drives too slow, or tailgates us, so we are just cursing some “idiot” who learned how to drive via YouTube video. The road rage fueled by the encased isolation between drivers is on full display in NASCAR, my favorite sport. In the middle of a race, during heated battles, drivers say the most awful things about each other.  Racers freely admit that they become different people when they put the helmets on and the adrenaline pumps. They refer to each other as “the 9” and the “the 18” during a race and not “Chase” and “Kyle.” And if they spoke to each other that badly and that often in person, they would probably fight a lot more. This separation between cars, the distance between drivers, leaves a void that our biases often fill. And before turning the page here, stop — these biases far transcend race or gender. If someone in a certain car cuts you off, have you ever said, “Figures … it’s a Mercedes driver” or, if there is someone pedaling slow on the expressway, have you ever thought, “Stupid green-o in their Prius?” People aren’t born “Benz” or “E.V.” But we can have implicit biases about those characteristics, nonetheless. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Coronavirus data on roads and our duty to keep them open And this, of course, holds true for other, more controversial biases. Anger only fans the flames. Someone who wrongs us suddenly is somehow more wrong in our fickle minds because they’re different from us. “That (woman/millennial/foreigner/senior citizen/fat guy in a cutoff shirt in a big truck) can’t drive! Figures.” We honk, zoom, fume, and gesture and then go on and probably forget about it. And because the “offending” person is an equal to us and very well could have the same gripe about us, they likely go on with their day and let the aggression go. But consider these same inherent biases we all possess and experience materializing in places more consequential than interactions between passing drivers. Imagine the feeling someone has when they are singled out by a police officer or aren’t fully considered for a job, simply because they are black. That is what our friends in the African American community are experiencing right now and why there is so much angst over the recent senseless killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. One thing that the white community needs to just swallow and stop fighting against is that, in general, we have it easier in America. That doesn’t mean that the worst-off Caucasian automatically has an easier life than the most well-off African American. Instead, given the same starting point or set of circumstances, a white person is often going to catch more breaks in society than a black person would. Even that fact isn’t in and of itself evil. People generally act more favorably toward people with whom they are more familiar. The black community does that also. So do women, millennials, high schoolers, refugees, and the rich and the poor.» RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Covering Atlanta traffic during a pandemic This fact takes a more impactful turn for African Americans in a society and country founded by whites, in which white people are the biggest racial demographic, that used to allow the enslavement of blacks, that institutionalized many discriminatory practices for generations, and is still recovering from those years of racism. Acknowledging white privilege shouldn’t be a stretch, if we can easily see how we judge people we don’t know who wrong us in their vehicles. Picture that seemingly meaningless reaction behind the wheel amplified over a potential life-and-death situation, such as not seeing someone’s hands in a traffic stop or chasing a supposed burglary suspect. People are fallible and anger and adrenaline — and bias — can escalate mistakes. So we need to do a better job of controlling and getting in touch with our own biases (whether driving or in the rest of our lives). Understanding our prejudices should also help us empathize with those around us who feel oppressed. 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.
  • When traffic in Atlanta and much of the rest of the world just about up and disappeared in the second week of March, it was almost an equilateral experience. But the slow return of traffic and increase in volume has happened more in pockets. And while certain trends are taking shape, there is no precedent to finding what the new normal may be, or if and when traffic volume from Q1 of 2020 and earlier will return. “They’re getting out and driving, but by no means are they driving the amount they did previously. So you’ll see the traffic volumes tick back up, but the miles traveled lagging behind that,” Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry told the AJC and WSB. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: The traffic temperature as some commerce resumes McMurry does think the acclimation of some to teleworking is one reason tracking the return of gridlock is tough: “Hopefully that is a trend that helps overall congestion in Metro Atlanta.” The overall number of cars on the roads in Atlanta is increasing, but the car count is rising in different spots. “In Metro Atlanta, the interstate volumes are outpacing the major arterials.” By arterials, McMurry means bigger side roads like Northside Drive, Peachtree (in various forms), and Roswell Road. He said this down trend on the smaller roads is likely because fewer people are actually going back to work. In fact, both McMurry and his team of engineers, along with the WSB Traffic Team, have all noticed conditions these days being more like Fridays. “Friday” conditions are where traffic is light in the mornings, but bustling in the afternoons when people are leaving work early, heading out to run errands, or beginning weekend travels. GDOT has some widespread and ambitious plans to add lanes to I-285 and GA-400 and to rebuild the I-20 and I-285 interchanges on both sides of town. The downturn in traffic volume and the fluctuation in revenues (which come largely from fuel taxes and toll lane-use) have not changed the need for those projects. In fact, McMurry said, the changing patterns justify them even more. “When you hit that 20% less traffic volume was where you started seeing congestion decrease,” McMurry explained. “Well guess what? If you had two lanes on each side of I-285, you increase the capacity by 20% or more, depending on what part of I-285 you’re on.” So the eventual tolled Express Lanes on I-285 could possibly have the same effect on traffic years down the road as the coronavirus is having right now. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Coronavirus data on roads and our duty to keep them open At the height of the shutdown in early April, Georgia saw a 40-50% decrease in traffic volume, McMurry told the GDOT board in a May 21 meeting. But compared to May of 2019, traffic now is down only 25-30% statewide - right in the wheelhouse for making traditional delays disappear.  But if Georgia’s traffic capacity stays at a level similar to this because of both a slow economy and adjusted working patterns, could that affect GDOT’s plans further in the future? “Over the long term we will have to make those decisions and that analysis to see what the new normal is,” McMurry said.  Just a month ago, freight traffic had begun decreasing and that industry was happening upon some hard times. However, McMurry said that industry is back on a rebound. “Even higher than normal is trucks and freight on the interstates both metro and rural.”  Big rig traffic is why I-85 northeast of Atlanta, particularly in Gwinnett, did not decline as much as other freeways, because of the large warehouses and freight needs on that corridor, McMurry said. But as traffic continues to hover at a lighter than “old normal” level, real concerns about transportation revenue persist. State Road and Tollway Authority Director Chris Tomlinson said SRTA’s fiscal year 2020 revenue is set to come in at 28% below what they forecasted, as drivers simply do not need toll lanes to save them time these days. Trip volume has been down as much as 70% in those lanes and the lack of demand keeps the pricing low. The month of April garnered SRTA just 12% of its normal take in those lanes. And public transit has also seen a major dip. “During the pandemic, MARTA has experienced rail service declines in the range of 70 to 75% and bus ridership declines of approximately 40 to 50%,” Tomlinson said in a May 18 news conference. Regional commuter buses have been 90% down. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Covering Atlanta traffic during a pandemic McMurry said that in terms of vehicle miles traveled, Georgia’s pre-COVID number was the most ever. In the previous 2008 recession, Atlanta traffic took seven years to return to its previous levels. So there is a real possibility this recovery — or return to the previous ugly traffic — could take quite a while. So while the decrease in traffic and for the need in transit is good, there needs to be enough demand to maintain those infrastructures. The roads, trains, and busing are important for different people at different times, and they cannot be sustained or innovated upon without some semblance of the previous revenue levels. Atlanta traffic doesn’t need to return to awful for this to happen. But there needs to be an equilibrium somewhere between “gridlock” and “ghost town” for our systems to sustain. 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.
  • Sometimes we happen upon a smattering of traffic takes, oddities, news items, and trends that each deserve coverage. But with this column only dropping once per week, the sands of time move faster than relevancy. So here are a few of those observations from the Atlanta roadways: Traffic is very unpredictable now. Even AAA has thrown in the towel in trying to predict how the commuting cookie was going to crumble for the Memorial Day weekend. AAA said in their annual pre-Memorial Day travel release that 2019 saw 43 million Americans travel that weekend, the second-most ever. The lowest number the travel and road safety organization ever measured was 31 million in recession-weary 2009. They anticipate this year’s start of summer to potentially be lower than 11 years ago, but AAA simply could not predict a specific number. And that is because traffic has not really assumed any pattern just yet. Weekday mornings are still very light. Afternoons are moderately busy, though with barely even a hint of the pre-corona gridlock. And there seem to be increasing amounts of people out both running errands and attending outings. Several travel outlets, including AAA, have seen their bookings slightly rise. But that increase in interest still doesn’t raise potential travel numbers to anywhere close to what they were. Combine a sudden downward shock to the economy with the cautiousness surrounding COVID-19 and one isn’t likely to expect routinely bad traffic or busy airports any time soon. But, as we have mentioned in recent past Gridlock Guy columns, there are enough vehicles out on the roads to send a commute south in an instant. Crashes are causing sizable delays again, and copious construction work is doing the same. The expectation of a delay-free ride should be higher than back in early March, but it isn’t guaranteed. Arm yourself with the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App and our live reports on 95.5 WSB; both are still necessary. By the way, Memorial Day weekend is the kick off of AAA’s 100-day summer campaign for safe teen driving, a period that normally is the deadliest for young drivers. With an increased amount of free time and even more unpredictable conditions these days, this campaign comes into a greater focus and should be top-of-mind for all of us. Unpredictability is on display with several major wrecks. Devastating crashes have always been a part of the Atlanta traffic menu. But the disparity in speeds between the wayward daredevils and and those within a standard deviation of the speed limit seems to be making these gnarly collisions more common. One on I-285/eastbound (Outer Loop) at Riverdale Road last Wednesday morning shut it down for several hours and caused extreme delays. An out-of-control red sedan sideswiped a van and then veered into oncoming traffic, where it was hit by a big rig and several other vehicles. The sedan’s driver died. On the evening before, a couple of vehicles collided, sending a sedan sideways and perpendicular into where a cement median wall began. The wall speared the passenger side of the car, killing the passenger. The Georgia State Patrol and HERO Units shut down I-75/85/southbound in the curve just south of I-20 (Exit 247)  to investigate this horrible wreck. Rain had just begun to fall when the chaos ensued, further highlighting the importance of lowering speeds and lessening distractions. These are just two examples of how reckless driving and sudden changes in conditions can bring calamity. There seems to be at least one epic crash of this kind per day now, causing intense traffic delays and radically shifting the lives of those involved. Now is the time to start taking driving seriously again. Delays more than itsy bitsy after a swimsuit spill. You read that correctly. A bit of commuting strangeness and ephemera shaded the commute on Friday, May 15. WSB Triple Team Traffic’s Mike Shields was the first to notice a debris field on I-285/sb (Inner Loop) near E. Ponce de Leon Avenue (Exit 40) in Clarkston. One of our Traffic Troopers called us hands-free as they passed this by and told Shields that someone had lost a load of … neon bikinis. And there were quite a few sets of two-pieces, maybe several dozen, scattered in the two right lanes of four total on I-285/southbound in that stretch of DeKalb County. The HERO operators did a great job of disrobing I-285 quickly and all lanes opened just after 3 p.m. I-285/southbound backed up several miles quite quickly, again evidencing how many are taking back to the roads. There is no word if the owner ever reunited with their precious lost cargo. 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.
  • These strange times have caused confusion and stress for many. Job loss, anxiety, social distancing, changing habits, down time — all these have thrown sticks into the bicycle spokes of routine life. WSB Triple Team Traffic has seen both sides of the coin during this pandemic. We largely have operated at full capacity, but we have had to pivot our strategy of how we cover traffic, given how those patterns have changed. » RELATED: Coronavirus data on roads and our duty to keep them open Atlanta traffic evaporated like the steam off of the streets in the muggy sun after a summer storm. Well, even faster. Metro Atlanta needed about one week to go from terrible to eerily wonderful, as towering waves of closures and stay-at-home orders crashed on our shores in mid-March. Traffic is part of WSB’s bread and butter around the clock on the 95.5 WSB and in the mornings on Channel 2 Action News. Our traffic coverage suddenly went from relevant and timely to really being in the way of the swarm of the coronavirus news. We were jumping in like normal — every six minutes on radio and every 10 on TV — but we pretty much universally were saying, “Nothing to see here. Ain’t that weird? Move on along.” But we still patrolled the roads in the WSB Skycopter and looked over our map data on the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App with a fine-toothed comb. We were ready to pounce on any strand of hair that appeared out of place. » RELATED: Coronavirus in Georgia: COVID-19 Dashboard Being less relevant was a bit of a gut-punch to us. Covering big traffic blockages was still important for essential workers and emergency responders, but Atlanta and America were mostly holed up at home. We, like you, had no idea how long the “Great American Shutdown” would or should last. We wondered how long we would stay powered up and staffed up if this diminuendo continued to softly play. Did we sound and look silly? But while other stations suspended traffic reporting or just had news anchors quickly voice over traffic maps, WSB Radio and TV pressed on. We eliminated some reports during drive times, because there were no longer dozens of miles-long, predictive traffic delays. But we still stayed on the air and present digitally. And, as noted multiple times in this column, there have been just enough bad crashes and extended construction zones to make driving around town extremely unpredictable. The best tool any driver can bring to their commute is preparedness. Triple Team Traffic was and is still relevant! But we, too, have also had to conform to work-at-home orders and the effects, both good and bad, that they have. The WSB Traffic Center usually has three people in it at drive time on weekdays. COVID-19 social-distancing guidelines reduced that to two. “Quarantine life is a challenge,” 95.5 WSB and KISS 104.1 morning reporter Veronica Harrell said. She and afternoon reporter Mike Shields each work their weekday shifts at home, only coming into our Midtown studios for their solo weekend shifts. “Although I love the comfort of being at home, I do miss the technical assurance I have when I'm inside of the Traffic Center.”  » COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia Harrell is referring to the multiple computers and monitors we have to effectively watch multiple problems on the WSB Jam Cams (which are harder to access on the bulky intranet site remotely) and the multiple police scanners we have to listen to emergency dispatches about wrecks and other problems. Morning reporter Ashley Frasca and I have been gung-ho about those police scanners and the good nuggets of news we can hear on them and nowhere else. Frasca’s keen ears have heard multiple fatal wrecks in recent mornings and even a police chase and carjacking of a news van. With fewer people out on the roads calling in info to us, we and the rest of the Traffic Team have had to beef up our scanner listening and “detective work” around traffic incidents. I have actually called businesses near the scenes of road closures to see if they are still blocked. The cameras nearby weren’t working and the police the GDOT didn’t have straight answers. The devil is in the details and that is especially so these days in traffic reporting. Our on-air strategy has shifted from adhering to a geographical rotation in our rush-hour reports, to taking an approach more apropos for midday and weekend traffic. That is, we simply rotate covering the worst traffic problems. So a listener or viewer will not hear us spending time saying a bunch of interstates are clear as much as they will hear us repeating the few problems we do have. And with regulations around the state easing and more people taking to the streets, traffic volume is slowly on the rise, as are the number of wrecks. Conditions are nowhere as bad as they were pre-pandemic, but we’re starting to see daily PM drive delays where I-285 hits I-20 on both sides of town and the busy I-75/85 at I-20 intersection. AM drive WSB Skycopter anchor Smilin’ Mark McKay keeps relaying, however, that the mornings are still a lot less busy than the afternoons. This is likely because people are running errands in the afternoons and sleeping-in in the mornings, since many commutes are just from the bed to the home office. That remote-working environment has been a blessing for Shields and Harrell. They each save hours per week in commuting and have fashioned up multiple devices to be able to gather traffic information and report for 95.5 WSB and our music stations. They can remotely upload reports for KISS 104.1, 97.1 The River, and B98.5FM almost as seamlessly as they could from the studio. But those reports and their live ones on WSB Radio do have a bit less audio quality than before. It’s all still very impressive, considering they didn’t work at home as much before. Another drawback for them, just like many of you, is the people they do not get to see. “The work-at-home life can also make it difficult to contact my co-workers. Overall, I do miss the energy that being on-air at the radio station brings,” Harrell, who arguably is the biggest social butterfly on our Traffic Team, said. So as we all look ahead to what life looks like in the second half of 2020, know that WSB Triple Team Traffic has stayed full bore in our defense of your commute. But we also have experienced some of the fears and strangeness that you have in this major cultural adjustment. Traffic will be lighter than before the virus for a long time, but some of it is and is continuing to return. 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.
  • My initial reaction to the viral video of a large group of people blocking off I-285 to do burnouts and celebrate the ill-thought pop-up party might have mirrored yours. I was stark-raving mad at the sight of a bunch of young men stopping their cars on I-285 and then creating their own perimeter in the eastbound lanes. The footage on the “Everything Georgia” / @GAFollowers Twitter account shows a crowd of a couple of dozen people out of their cars and filming a Dodge Charger doing a smoky doughnut under the Airport Tunnel bridge, just east of Riverdale Road. The clip shows vehicles not involved in this careless stunt helplessly coming to a stop behind the throng during the 11 p.m. hour on Saturday, Feb. 29. This kind of grassroots horsepower and traffic-snarling strut has become more commonplace in recent years. But no matter how talented and precise these drivers are, threading the needle between an unprotected crowd and someone taking video, these stunts are absolutely dangerous and inconsiderate. » RELATED: WATCH: Traffic stops on I-285 as drivers do burnouts, doughnuts in tunnel I get angry at any time we have unforced errors on the roads. When cars barely wreck and stay blocking a travel lane, it’s unacceptable. When GDOT crews stay out in a lane past the cutoff time, it’s maddening and annoying. When people drive the wrong way on shoulders to dangerously get out of a backup, I point it out on 95.5 WSB and in this column.  When the dangers and responsibility of driving are taken so lightly as these men took them that frustrating Saturday night, that needs saying. To those that applaud pop-up traffic RED ALERTS (shutting down interstates), one must also endorse several things. Shutting down a freeway or road terribly inconveniences those who have no part in the endeavor. The I-285 video showed a tractor trailer that could have been made late making a delivery; their or someone else’s livelihood hangs in that balance. Stopping in the middle of any road, but particularly an interstate, creates danger for not only those choosing to shut it down, but for those rolling up on it unexpectedly. Not a day goes by in Atlanta where an initial wreck doesn’t cause a chain reaction crash in the backup. Stopping on a dime for no reason (doing so to block off roads for burnouts qualifies as “no reason”) creates even further unnecessary risk. » RELATED: National traffic data shows I-285 deadliest highway This doesn’t include the risk those in the burnout assume on themselves when smoking out an intersection or freeway. What if someone plows into them or if the circling driver loses his handle and hits an innocent person or someone else in the crowd around them? Live roadways simply are not the place for these showcases. But before we all get high and mighty and virtue-signal about these dangers, let’s not pick sawdust out of the eyes of those that have blinded themselves to these externalities. We have planks in our own sockets. Before we call out these young men, do we call out our own spouses and kids when they are holding their phones and driving, something blatantly illegal and dangerous? Have we felt guilty about tailgating someone or cutting across three lanes to make a turn at the last second? These things happen at the hands of far more people, far more often and we, the indignant, are guilty. We, the guilty, also need to be careful in how we describe things we don’t like from people we don’t know. Comments on social media called the selfish participants “thugs” and made implications that the City of Atlanta is letting this behavior slide because of the race of the participants. This is misguided and hurtful. For one, the I-285 blockage and drifting was in College Park, not Atlanta, and that city’s own police department is investigating it. And assuming that all of the people involved are involved in other criminal activity, by calling them thugs, isn’t warranted. The same reaction likely wouldn’t occur if this gathering consisted of frat bros in their dad’s Wranglers. That same traffic interruption and risk should be just as maddening, absent of racial and cultural overtones. The plans to block off city roads not just in Atlanta, but elsewhere will continue. The Instagram account @_slideshowTV has an invitation up for the “ATL Ride Out” on Sunday, March 15. The organizer on the account is inviting cars and bikes to descend on Atlanta, but to not do burnouts. Considering that other posts on the account glorify burnouts, this seems like a bit of posterior-covering and not a real thought to the effect on other people. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Why I-285 flooded in the same place — twice We seem to accept some other events that block traffic. The Georgia State Patrol often escorts sports teams to Atlanta venues. The annual Georgia Police Memorial Ride, in which I participate, shuts down parts of I-285 and I-75/85 (the Downtown Connector) for extended periods on a Saturday morning. Funeral processions stop traffic, too. The latter two of these examples may cause jams, but they are done in remembrance of those lost. Traffic delays should make us mad, and stupid behavior should also. But we have to remember that we are careless, too. Two dozen people texting and driving could be every bit as dangerous as these “Fast and Furious” wannabees were on I-285. Whether it’s this egregious behavior or the more common, insidious things we do every day, we need the police to step up and enforce the law. Fixing broken windows and graffiti in New York City helped decrease the crime rate, because of the message it sent. Applying that same concept on the roads could galvanize more safety and civility. 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.
  • Autonomous vehicle technology is mind-blowing. The fact that cameras, mapping, lasers and computers affixed to traveling vessels can see road lines and other vehicles and then drive is absolutely remarkable. The fact that these revolutionary cars can speed up and slow down on their own and follow inputted navigational directions is a transcendent breakthrough. But this technology is little more than an aid right now — we cannot count on it to be responsible for us. » RELATED: Traffic technology spreads, saving opioid victims An Apple engineer in Mountain View, California, lost his life as a byproduct of this false comfort two years ago. Walter Huang, 38, had repeatedly noticed his Tesla Model X kept darting toward a damaged median barrier on U.S. Highway 101, when the car was in self-drive mode. Huang had expressed this to some family members, but he was prepared for it and corrected the maneuver any time he passed that fateful spot. Huang also took his sleek SUV to his Tesla dealer, but they could not replicate the defect. On March 23, 2018, Huang had switched to the auto-pilot system. He presumably had forgotten he was on the approach to this trouble zone on Highway 101, between San Jose and San Francisco. Records show that his phone was streaming a video game. Disaster struck. Huang’s Tesla steered into and then hit the compromised wall. The impact was dashboard-deep. Game over. Huang paid the price for the complacency that brilliant technology causes. » RELATED: Why I-285 flooded in the same place — twice Tesla said that the crash was so severe because the median wall — designed to diminish such an impact — had damage from an earlier crash. The California Department of Transportation said that maintenance on that wall had been scheduled, but not completed. The automaker did not account for why the Model X decided to steer into the wall in the first place. A self-driving Uber hit and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzeberg in Tempe, Arizona — this was also in March 2018. The U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) ruled this crash, too, happened because the vehicle’s operator was distracted and because Uber’s corporate governance of this autonomous project was lacking. In a flavor of mea culpa, the NTSB said that even the government did not oversee such endeavors enough. A March 2019 crash took the life of 50-year-old Jeremy Baren Banner when his Tesla drove under a tractor trailer, shearing Banner’s Model 3’s roof off. Banner had just taken his hands off the wheel six seconds before the impact, and the NTSB said Banner entered autopilot mode just ten seconds beforehand. Tesla’s system did not detect that Banner had let go of the wheel. He was driving 68 miles per hour in a 55 speed zone. We don’t know why all three of these fatal instances happened to take place in the third month of the year. But we can safely assume we need to beware behind the wheel on more days than just the Ides of March. In a hearing on Capitol Hill last Tuesday, a bipartisan cadre of lawmakers urged that the United States needs to fund autonomous vehicles more steadfastly. The fear is that the U.S. will fall behind China and other countries in this realm. More funding and emphasis are not bad things, but hasty implementation can produce awful results. » RELATED: Setting an extremely attainable commuting bar for 2020 Many tragedies result from a series of errors, not just one idiot proverbially sitting on the candy-red button. Huang should have been watching where he was driving. The Uber driver should have also. Banner might have picked the wrong time to test his Tesla’s autopilot system at that speed. Tesla needs to beef up the flaws in its miraculous vehicles. Uber and other outfits need to not let convenience breed malfeasance. And the government needs to better balance innovation with safety — and the DOT needs to repair the roads fully. As we have said in this space many times, including in last week’s post about the forgotten dangers of driving: We all help each other in this community on the roads. Despite the aids of technology, we cannot lessen our vigilance and responsibility behind the wheel. Partially autonomous cars are here and could be a Godsend. Fully autonomous vehicles are still en route, and we shouldn’t act as if they have arrived. 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 
  • Last Saturday was unforgettable along I-85 in Norcross. In fact, one didn’t have to be anywhere near the tragedy that exploded into calamity on I-85/northbound at Jimmy Carter Boulevard to see or hear about what will be one of the biggest traffic stories of 2020. A Freightliner tanker truck carrying an 8,500-pound fuel shipment slammed into a car in the second right lane. The Volkswagen had just been in a small crash and stopped in the road. The impact sent the tanker truck sideways and flipping multiple times. The crash killed the drivers of the truck and the car, and it also sent the flammable shipment into massive flames. Fire birthed explosions, as people in the middle of the interstate fled their cars and crews evacuated nearby businesses along Dawson Boulevard. The massive collision caused fuel to leak into the freeway drainage system, catching fire and shooting out of the I-85/southbound drains, shutting that side of the freeway down. » RELATED: Victims ID’d in fatal fiery crash on I-85 in Gwinnett Everything about this conflagration was epic and WSB’s radio and TV coverage began with the keen eyes and ears of Triple Team Traffic reporter Mike Shields. Shields prepared for his top of the hour traffic reports for 95.5 WSB and Channel 2 Action News, duties he shares off-camera on the weekends with Veronica Harrell. At just after 8 a.m., Shields heard both DeKalb and Gwinnett police on our emergency scanner system dispatched to a call.  “I heard them looking for something. They didn’t say what it was, it was a report of a crash,” Shields told Smilin’ Mark McKay and me on our most recent WSB Traffic Podcast. As Shields searched the sensors on our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App and the WSB Jam Cams, everything took a dramatic turn. “I hear this screaming over one of the scanners and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness.’” A former City of Marietta police officer, Shields knows better than any of us on the team that first responders see enough carnage to not exclaim like that at just anything.  “(I clicked on) always my go-to cam: over there at I-85 and Jimmy Carter — camera 87.” The public can view any GDOT camera, and we on the Traffic Team see them on a private system that makes us one of the few media properties that can actually move them. We do this so often that many of us have certain cameras memorized by number, so they are easier to find. When Shields got “good ol’ 87” to load, the situation was very bad. “It was just this massive ball of fire covering the entire interstate, I-85/northbound,” Shields explained, noting it was 8:01 a.m. - a time he will never forget. “My jaw just dropped. I immediately called our TV producer, Kimberly Page.” Shields continued: “I said, ‘You have to take me now.’” Shields said as soon as Page saw this, she knew it was severe. “At about 8:02 or 8:03 we went live on Channel 2 with it, breaking in.” » RELATED: Remembering WSB’s Pete Combs and the I-85 plane landing Shields’ and Page’s quick actions allowed Channel 2 to switch its opening block of the news show and get Shields on the air with this critical information and breathtaking live video. Fire engulfed the freeway in a way Atlanta hasn’t seen since the disastrous I-85 bridge collapse in March of 2017. Atlanta gasped again.  Shields then jumped on 95.5 WSB with the shocking news. “These flames are huge and I’m hearing Gwinnett County say that this may be a tanker truck involved,” Shields dispatched to WSB Radio’s listeners during that 8:05 traffic report, issuing a one of our traffic RED ALERTS for the closure. I-85/southbound would soon join that rank as the fire spread. “At that point we notified our radio news desk and our music stations so that everybody knew what was going on,” Shields said. An event of this magnitude transcends listeners and viewers just interested in news and traffic. It even became a national story, as ABC World News Tonight used an actuality of Shields and Ch. 2 anchor Sophia Choi narrating the harrowing video. The intense fire damaged the pavement on I-85/northbound, forcing crews to have to scrape off the top pavement layer and replace it, GDOT said. While I-85/southbound reopened within a couple of hours, the repaving of I-85/northbound pushed its closure up to dinner time: 10 hours. Shields also noted that after the crash scene cleared, GDOT HERO Units had to tow away abandoned cars, a la 2014’s Snowmageddon. Surreal. I had to call in Alex Williams to fill in on Saturday, unbeknownst to us that I-85 was burning. We each lost our breaths after that phone call. “I got a quick shower and got in there, because I knew I needed to help him,” Williams said of his arrival 45 minutes early. Williams handled most of the radio responsibilities, as Shields did extra reports on Ch. 2. They both dealt with extreme call volume from our Traffic Troopers and had to continue updating our app, Twitter accounts and monitoring the rest of the craziness on the Atlanta roads. Deep into the I-85 closure, I-20/eastbound shut down at Highway 138 (Exit 82) in Conyers with what became a fatality crash investigation. Williams noticed big delays out that way and pulled up a WSB Jam Cam in the area that showed no traffic moving toward it. “Alright, we’ve got another RED ALERT,” Williams recounted. “And this one ended up creeping on for hours, so I had those two things to cover.” 95.5 WSB had to carry UGA basketball that afternoon, so Williams had to work to squeeze in quick traffic reports on these two problems and also somehow also convey the terrible delays on I-285 in both directions in Fulton and Cobb counties near Hollowell Parkway. Construction took out multiple lanes on the west side. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: The urbanist view on street design This was a brain-scrambling mess, but Williams and Shields handled it with poise and urgency, and their extra efforts alerted drivers on the air and digitally as soon as possible of the closures. They gave the context and timeliness that a robot-powered, algorithmic app simply cannot on its own. “We are the Atlanta traffic experts. We’re always on the offensive; we’re always looking for things,” Shields spoke of the entire WSB Traffic Team. And he is one of our newer members. Just as one should be weather-aware in times of severe weather, one should also be traffic-aware. Atlanta’s commute can change terribly at any time. And there is no better place to turn to on the air, on mobile devices, and online than WSB Triple Team Traffic. Last Saturday’s cataclysm is yet another reminder. 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 .
  • The first song on CAKE’s 1994 debut album “Motorcade of Generosity” is “Comanche” and repeats this line, “If you want to have cities, you have to build roads.” The line is symbolic, meaning success comes in steps. But in literal practice, the phrase is becoming less true for city developers. Connected or “smart” vehicles and traffic signs and signals are increasing in number, and Georgia has become a cutting-edge testing ground. With a main goal of decreasing traffic delay, the technology is bucking the traditional paths to gridlock relief. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Why I-285 flooded in the same place — twice iATL, the Infrastructure Automotive Technology Lab, just opened two weeks ago off of Haynes Bridge Road just west of GA-400 in Alpharetta. The main room in the brand-new building displays several types of traffic signs and lights on its left wall. Then two long rows of traffic signal boxes, simulating all the types in use around the country, take up the rest of the room. Each box and signal is equipped with wireless radio technology that allows them to communicate with each other — and with smart vehicles. “It all changed on January the 7th, 2019,” iATL director Bryan Mulligan explained. “The reason being is that the Ford Motor Company announced at C.E.S. that they were doing connected vehicles.” Ford became the first automaker to commit to making all of its new vehicles connected by 2022. This means that their entire showroom fleets will soon be able to work with traffic signal settings and other radio-equipped smart cars to decrease congestion and the instance of high-risk maneuvers. These cars will not all be self-driving, but they will be able to prompt drivers to make better decisions and move more freely. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Setting an extremely attainable commuting bar for 2020 Enter the entrepreneur Mulligan, who is also the president of Suwanee tech company Applied Information. This firm builds this smart signal technology and also deploys it via its Travel Safely app, which can communicate with traffic signals as a smart vehicle would. Mulligan explained this technology in a Gridlock Guy piece on the North Avenue smart corridor two years ago. Applied Information and an army of other tech firms, automakers, and other stakeholders in the technology and transportation industries are using their strengths in the private sector to innovate and then work with the public sector for traffic solutions.  In metro Atlanta, the City of Marietta was the first to deploy Mulligan’s technology and now equips first responders’ vehicles and CobbLinc buses this way. Traffic lights turn green automatically, for example, for a bus that is behind schedule and has five or more people on board, and the city controls that threshold. Traffic lights also go green for fire trucks and med units on emergency calls. “(The cities using this technology) see that they can deliver better health outcomes by saving heart attack, stroke, accident and opioid victims,” Mulligan explained. Marietta City Manager Bill Bruton told Mulligan the hastened response time is most helpful to those who overdose on opioids, because successfully administering the opioid antidote Narcan is extraordinarily time-critical. » RELATED: Remembering WSB’s Pete Combs and the I-85 plane landing “The data shows that (smart technology) saves about 11 seconds per intersection, and the paramedics fly between five and six intersections on their way to a call.” So the data has shown Mulligan and city planners that response times have decreased by about a minute. Mulligan calls this a “Day One Application” of his products: They are immediately successful for first responders, before the first civilian smart car ever prevents a crash or before the connected buses alleviate traffic. 125 smart intersections have just gone online in Alpharetta, and the city’s fire trucks are already equipped to trigger these traffic lights. The City of Marietta has continuously grown this technology in its densely populated areas. Atlanta has had the North Avenue smart corridor for more than two years, but now has smart technology on Campbellton Road and is working on it for Martin Luther King Junior Drive. Each of those corridors sees heavy MARTA use, and the city believes connected buses and signals can make big impacts there. This technology is catching on statewide, in fact, as smart speed limit and school-zone signs and signals dot the entire state. Mulligan said that Georgia truly is on the cutting edge in this realm. “There is a very robust and progressive culture here that is not prevalent in the rest of the world,” Mulligan said of both the Georgia private- and the public-sector entities with which he has dealt in the past few years. State officials, including Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, mingled with stakeholders in the automotive and technological fields at iATL’s recent grand opening. Many chest-pounding events of these are all bark and little bite. But given the sincere interest from cities and automakers and their use of iATL as a testing field for the technology, this wireless wave has some punch. And given that any city that deploys these innovations can nearly guarantee faster emergency-response times means the investment is successful out of the gate. Mulligan estimated that the cost of the entire connected systems that Alpharetta bought roughly equaled the cost to add an extra lane to one intersection. The answer to building cities is no longer just building the roads. Listen to Turnbull’s interview with Mulligan on the WSB Traffic Podcast.  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. 

News

  • Antonio Arnelo Smith was walking along a Georgia roadway in February when the first Valdosta police officer approached him. As Officer Dominic Henry questioned Smith about panhandling reported outside a nearby Walgreens, a second officer, Sgt. Billy Wheeler, came up behind Smith and, without warning, placed him in a bear hug. Moments later, Wheeler slammed Smith to the ground. “Oh my God, you broke my wrist!” Smith, 46, cried out as two more officers arrived and helped Wheeler hold down Smith. As Smith cried and screamed in pain, Wheeler advised him he was under arrest for outstanding felony warrants. The only problem: Wheeler had the wrong man. The entire interaction was captured on body camera footage. The allegations against Wheeler and the other officers are laid out in a federal lawsuit Smith’s attorney filed last month. “When you see that video, you can’t help but say this is a travesty,” Nathaniel Haugabrook, one of Smith’s attorneys, told The Associated Press. “Nobody should be done that way.” The civil rights lawsuit names as defendants the four officers involved in the stop, the police chief, the mayor, city council members, the city itself and the police department. Haugabrook said he believes his client was stopped simply because he is Black. Though Henry is Black, Wheeler and the other two officers named in the suit are white. “Obviously it has some racial tones to it,” he told the AP. Valdosta police Chief Leslie Manahan argued in a statement last month that officers did their jobs and, despite no charges being filed against Smith, that they had the right person regarding the panhandling. “We did have the right guy stopped that was causing the problem at Walgreens,” Manahan told WALB in Albany. “It’s just unfortunate he was not the one with the felony warrants.” She cited miscommunications in radio traffic as the cause of the problem. “Those are things that yes, we can work on that as an agency, and work to continue training our officers better and better communication skills with each other,” the chief said. A Black man in a hoodie Smith’s violent encounter with police stayed below the public radar until Haugabrook filed the federal lawsuit June 19. Valdosta police officials issued a lengthy statement a few days later, along with one officer’s body camera footage. That footage, taken from Wheeler’s camera, fails to show the actual takedown of Smith because when Wheeler placed him in a bear hug, Smith’s back was pressed against the lens. The AP reported that additional body camera footage was not released until after the Valdosta Daily Times published footage obtained from Haugabrook. See the initial body camera footage released by Valdosta police officials below.  Read the Valdosta Police Department’s entire statement here.  Smith was at Walgreens around noon Feb. 8 awaiting some money his sister was sending him via Western Union, according to a March 20 letter, called an ante litem notice, Haugabrook sent to Valdosta city officials warning of the impending lawsuit. Both Henry and Officer Rachel Hinton had gone to the pharmacy in response to the call about a panhandler bothering customers. Each would encounter a man fitting the description given by employees: a Black man wearing a brown hoodie, according to police. Court documents state that Hinton stopped a man for questioning on the north side of the pharmacy. She asked Henry to check the west side of the building for anyone else who could be the alleged panhandler. En route to the side of the building, Henry encountered a customer who told him the man had walked south out of the parking lot. Read attorney Nathaniel Haugabrook’s ante litem notice to Valdosta city and police officials below.  “While (Hinton) was running the identification provided by the (first) subject, it was learned that he had active felony arrest warrants,” Valdosta police officials said. “This police band communication between the first officer and dispatch was overheard by other officers arriving at the location. “At approximately same time, (Henry), on the opposite side of the store, located (Smith) walking in a southern direction away from Walgreens. The officer made contact with the subject, explaining to him that he was investigating a report of a suspicious person at Walgreens.” Smith gave Henry his identification and explained why he was in the area, according to the letter submitted with the federal lawsuit. In the video, Smith questions why he was stopped and appears upset but does not appear to pose a threat to the officer. “I’m waiting for the Western Union,” Smith tells Henry. “Call my sister right now in Florida. You have a cellphone. Call her.” “Call who?” Henry asks. “Call my sister in Florida,” Smith responds. He pleads with Henry: “Don’t do this.” ‘Oh my God, what are you doing?’ At that point, Wheeler, who had quietly come up behind Smith, grabs him by both arms from behind and puts him in a bear hug. Wheeler never announced his presence to Smith. “What are you doing?” a startled Smith says. “Oh my God, what are you doing?” Wheeler tells him to put his hands behind his back, a command he cannot follow because his arms are pinned at his sides. “Put your hands behind your back like you’re told,” Wheeler says, his face resting on Smith’s back as he holds him in place. A bewildered Smith again asks what Wheeler is doing, crying out as the officer picks him up and slams him onto the ground. Moments later, as the other two officers, identified in the lawsuit as Patrick Barrett and Hudson Durden, try to help get Smith into handcuffs, Smith cries out that Wheeler has broken his wrist. “Yeah, he might be broke,” Wheeler is heard saying. Watch the body camera footage obtained by The Associated Press below.  About a minute later, the officers remove the handcuffs and call for an ambulance. Smith questions why he is being arrested. “We have a warrant for your arrest,” one officer tells him. Henry corrected the officer, indicating that the man with active warrants had been taken into custody by Hinton. “The other guy is over there,” Henry says, pointing toward the pharmacy. “They pointed out two different people. They got the guy with a warrant.” He points down at Smith. “This guy, I just got contact with him,” he says. The video shows that the officers let Smith up off the ground. According to court documents, he left before the ambulance arrived. “As the video clearly demonstrates, each of the officers’ facial expressions and comments confirm that a grave and serious error had taken place when Sgt. Wheeler arrested and slammed Mr. Smith to the ground,” Haugabrook’s letter to Valdosta officials read. “Although an ambulance was called to the scene, Mr. Smith, scared and wanting to get away from the officers, refused treatment and walked away from the scene holding his arm.” He later went on his own to South Georgia Medical Center, where doctors confirmed that both his radius and ulna, the long bones of the forearm, were fractured at the wrist, court records show. According to Haugabrook, the fractures did not heal properly because Smith was unable to find transportation to the specialist he was referred to. Inconsistencies Smith’s lawsuit accuses Wheeler and Henry of falsifying their reports on the incident. Wheeler’s report stated that Henry asked Smith to put his hands behind his back, which the video proves was not the case. The statement from Valdosta police officials also contains inconsistencies with the video footage that paint Smith’s encounter with the officers in a false light. “The responding officer (Wheeler) approached the subject and advised him to place his hands behind his back,” the statement read. “The subject did not and began to resist by pulling his arms forward and tensing his body.” The video shows that while Smith questioned what Wheeler was doing, he did not try to resist or pull away. The city’s statement also stated that officials there are “fully committed to transparency,” though at that time, they released only a portion of the existing body camera footage. The lawsuit argues that neither Henry nor Wheeler had justification for physically restraining Smith because they had not determined whether he had committed a crime or if he had outstanding warrants. At one point in the footage, Wheeler asks Henry whether Walgreens wanted to obtain a criminal trespass warrant against Smith, the lawsuit states. “I don’t know. I had, I hadn’t even asked them,” Henry responds, according to the document. Manahan defended Wheeler’s actions to WALB last month. “He still thinks the subject has felony warrants. When you are dealing with someone with felony warrants, you kinda want to move quick, really for the safety of everyone involved,” Manahan told the news station. Read Antonio Arnelo Smith’s federal lawsuit below.  Wheeler has been on the Valdosta police force for nearly 23 years, the lawsuit states. In that time, he has taken “use of force” courses annually. “Since 2017, Defendant Wheeler has also received training in the Governor’s Initiative – De-Escalation Options for Gaining Compliance,” the document states. Haugabrook is arguing that the Valdosta Police Department routinely receives calls about suspicious people, many of whom have committed no crime. In those situations, officers’ actions are restricted by constitutional rules. “Here, Defendant Wheeler violated those rules whereas Mr. Smith had committed no crime that would justify his arrest. Defendant Henry, the lead investigating officer on the scene was simply checking Mr. Smith’s identification and questioning him to determine if he was the suspicious person complained about at Walgreens,” the lawsuit states. “Even if Mr. Smith had been the suspicious person, the consequences would have been a criminal trespass warning to stay off Walgreens’ premises.” The lawsuit claims illegal seizure, unlawful detention, excessive force, assault and battery by excessive force, false arrest/false imprisonment, negligent hiring and training on the part of the department, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy to violate Smith’s rights. Smith also accuses Henry of failure to intervene. “Defendant Henry had a realistic opportunity to prevent Defendant Wheeler from grabbing and slamming Mr. Smith to the ground. It would have been as simple as holding out his hand or saying, ‘Stop,’ the lawsuit states. “Defendant Henry did neither.” The lawsuit does not specify the monetary damages being sought. In the March letter to Valdosta officials, however, Haugabrook presented a settlement demand of $700,000. Haugabrook is seeking more than money for his client, however. According to the AP, the attorney wants to see meaningful change in the Valdosta Police Department. “We will cross the next bridge as it comes and hopefully we get this matter solved in a manner that prevents these sorts of mistakes, this sort of conduct from happening in the future,” the attorney told WALB.
  • Monday evening was a “peaceful” experience for the Georgia National Guardsmen who have been dispatched in response to last weekend’s surge of violence in Atlanta and the ransacking of the Georgia State Patrol’s headquarters, according to their commander. So far, they have not made any arrests and no Guardsmen have been injured.  Riding in Humvees, the troops — who are armed — will be out on duty again Tuesday evening in keeping with the emergency declaration Gov. Brian Kemp issued following the fatal shootings that left four dead in Atlanta, including an 8-year-old girl. Set to expire July 13, Kemp’s order empowers the Guardsmen to apprehend lawbreakers.  Related: Kemp to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops after violent weekend On Monday evening, the Guardsmen stood watch at the state Capitol in downtown Atlanta, the Governor’s Mansion in Buckhead and the recently vandalized Department of Public Safety building in southeast Atlanta. The troops are seeking to free up police for other law enforcement duties, said Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden Jr., Georgia’s adjutant general. Citing security concerns, Carden declined to say precisely how many Guardsmen have been deployed, though Kemp’s order calls for up to 1,000.  “At the end of the day,” Carden said, “we are primarily staffed, trained and equipped to protect our nation – our citizens – against foreign adversaries. It is disappointing to me that once again we are having to use our personnel, equipment and training to protect Americans and their property from other Americans.”  At least 93 people were shot in Atlanta between May 31 and June 27, roughly double the number from the same span a year ago. On Sunday, a crowd of at least 60 busted out the windows of the Georgia State Patrol headquarters, and someone threw a homemade grenade into a supervisor’s office in the building, authorities said.  >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • An 80-year-old golfer was accidentally struck by a bullet intended for a groundhog in Lomira, Wisconsin Monday. Law enforcement officials are describing the event as an accidental shooting. When a 50-year-old man was shooting at a groundhog on his property, one of several rounds that he fired hit a tree and then struck the golfer while he was on the course at.The Golf Club at Camelot, according to WITI. The golfer was taken to a nearby hospital and his injuries are not considered life-threatening. The Dodge County Sheriff, Dale Schmidt, urged people to be cautious when using firearms. “When shooting firearms, it is always very important to know your target and beyond. Firearms are capable of shooting long distances and it is always necessary to have a backstop that can sufficiently stop a bullet from traveling beyond that which is desired,” Schmidt told WITI. Police are still investigating the incident.
  • You may be seeing social media posts promoting #BlackOutDay2020, but what is Black Out Day? Here are five things to know. 1. Blackout Day is persuading Black Americans to not spend money today, to show their economic power. If something needs to be purchased, the movement urges spending money at Black-owned businesses, CNN reported. It’s called a “day of solidarity in America where not one Black person in America spends a dollar,” unless it is spent at a Black-owned business, USA Today reported. Nielsen reports that Black Americans spent more than $1 trillion in 2018, according to CNN. 2. The day was promoted by Calvin Martyr, a social media personality/activist, for about two months. 3. Martyr and those taking part are hoping the day helps to end institutional racism that they have said lead to the deaths of Black Americans, CNN reported. It started after the death of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, but before the death of George Floyd. 4. Martyr likened to the spending boycott to the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott when the Black community refused to ride buses until they were allowed to sit wherever they wanted. 5. My Black Receipt is a related movement that urges for people to upload receipts of money spent at minority-owned businesses, USA Today reported.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department on Monday released loan-level data on each of the more than 4.9 million loans made under the government’s Paycheck Protection Program. The program was established in March by the CARES Act, aimed at shoring up small businesses struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic. Authorities said the funds were meant to give business owners incentive to keep their employees on payrolls. Data released Monday includes the names of more than 660,000 businesses that received loans of $150,000 or more. A majority of the program’s beneficiaries -- about 80% -- asked for loans under that amount, with most seeking about $100,000, according to officials. >> See the full data released by SBA and the Treasury Department In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the program has helped to support 'more than 51 million jobs and over 80 percent of all small business employees.' Under the program, the government is backing $659 billion in low-interest business loans that will be forgiven if employers use the money on payroll, rent and similar expenses. Companies typically must have fewer than 500 workers to qualify. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Atlanta’s fire chief has opted to self-quarantine pending the results of a COVID-19 test, one day after the city’s mayor announced that she tested positive for the virus.  Randall Slaughter is being tested for the coronavirus “out of an abundance of caution,” Atlanta Fire and Rescue spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford confirmed to AJC.com on Tuesday.  “He will also be in quarantine until his results return and will move forward based on those results,” Stafford said.  Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Monday announced that she tested positive for the virus.  “COVID-19 has literally hit home,” Bottoms wrote. “I have had NO symptoms and have tested positive.” — Please read more on AJC.com for updates.