Traffic

Gridlock Guy: Bad driving decisions breed calamity on infamous I-85 bridge

Say “I-85 bridge” and most Atlantans will laugh or grimace and then travel in a mental time machine back to the Spring of 2017. I-85 has or passes under dozens of bridges in Metro Atlanta, but the span just south of GA-400 in Northeast Atlanta draws the most infamy.

As most very likely remember, a roaring fire under I-85 on March 30th, four years ago, damaged the bridge to the point that the northbound side collapsed and the southbound side had to be demolished and rebuilt. I-85 re-opened by mid-May, but the entire closure of a freeway in the heart of Metro Atlanta and in such a spectacular way is on the Mount Rushmore of Atlanta traffic issues.

Another crazy scene, albeit less infamous, unfolded last Monday afternoon just south of the rebuilt bridge. Atlanta Fire responded to a “pedestrian hit” call on I-85/southbound and arrived at a potentially more dire scene.

A vehicle had plowed under another on the right shoulder and a woman had somehow been thrown from the I-85/southbound bridge to the grass in front of the HERO headquarters below on Plasters Avenue, just off of Monroe Drive. HERO units are the big, yellow highway assistance trucks that have helped thousands of Atlantans over the last 27 years. Multiple HERO employees reportedly rendered aid to Leslie Camille Reese until AFD arrived.

Reese miraculously survived the fall, though the serious bone breaks and other injuries sent her to Grady Hospital. But how Reese got launched from a bridge on a cloudy Monday is a dangerous and nearly tragic mix of selfishness, recklessness, and bad decisions.

Georgia State Patrol shut down Plasters Avenue and multiple right lanes of I-85/southbound to investigate the incident. At one point, GSP blocked all of I-85/southbound for several minutes to take pictures and spray paint car placements in the through lanes. This allowed them to recreate the split-second-timeline of this strange and completely avoidable crash.

Reese had been involved in a wreck and sat in the right emergency lane. As many people do, Reese got out of the crashed car. This is a huge mistake.

Cars protect people when they are in motion, so they certainly are the safest haven for stranded motorists. If drivers cannot pull off of an exit and into a parking lot or side street, they certainly need to wait inside their cars on the right shoulder after they exchange information and while they wait for assistance.

Waiting outside is the only misstep Reese made. Another driver, a term used loosely here, is who really caused the trouble.

“A Chevrolet Camaro driven by Horace Maurice Dillard, Jr., was traveling at excessive speeds southbound on I-85,” Franka Young of the Department of Public Safety Information Office told the AJC and 95.5 WSB. Dillard’s story gets worse.

“Witnesses on scene stated Mr. Dillard was weaving in and out of traffic while racing another vehicle. Mr. Dillard struck a Kia Optima,” Young explained, “causing him to lose control and travel into the right emergency lane. Mr. Dillard then struck a Chevrolet Cruz that was broken down in the right emergency lane.”

Young said that witnesses saw Reese standing behind the trunk of one of the cars on the shoulder. Dillard, out of control from racing and hitting a Kia, pile-drove into the back of one of those cars and sent Reese flying off the bridge.

Dillard put any concern for his own safety or that of those around him aside, so he could race another car, in traffic, during rush hour. That decision almost killed someone and could have hurt or killed more.

Young said that Dillard is being charged five times: Reckless Driving, Too Fast for Conditions, Failure to Maintain Lane, Improper Lane Change, and Serious Injury by Motor Vehicle. When the state names the charges, they capitalize them. And Dillard is likely going to pay a far greater price than whatever benefit that particular illegal and dangerous freeway race gave.

Reese is paying part of that price now and could for years. She should have stayed in the vehicle. And Dillard should have taken far more responsibility in operating his.

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 on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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