Arizona

UPDATE: Drivers in Wrong-Way Crash Identified; Video Shows Car Entering I-10

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It happened again. Two men died Tuesday night in a head-on collision involving a wrong-way driver on one of the busiest freeway stretches in metro Phoenix.

Today, police identified the wrong-way driver as Ronald Wayne Mollenahuer, 56 of Peoria; the victim was
Young Lee, 54 of Phoenix.

They collided on the  “Mini-Stack,” where Interstate 10 converges with State Route 51 and the Red Mountain part of Loop 202.  It was closed for hours, as the Arizona Department of Public Safety investigated.

DPS says it received reports at 7:44 p.m. of a red sedan heading westbound in the eastbound lanes on I-10 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. There it rammed head-on a white sedan which had been traveling south on State Route 51 in the carpool lane as it merged with I-10.

click to enlarge
Scene after Tuesday night's wrong-way collision
Courtesy Arizona Department of Public Safety
A third car, in the same location was also hit. The driver was rushed to a nearby hospital and treated for unspecified injuries. The driver of the wrong-way car and the white sedan both died.

It’s a familiar tale, one getting a lot of attention these days.

It marks the third fatal wrong-way freeway crash in Phoenix in 53 days. It comes amid renewed clamor to stop wrong-way drivers getting on the freeways. The Arizona Department of Transportation is nearing what it calls a major announcement about a plan to debut the first system of its kind to do just that and to warn motorists if alarm signals fail to persuade an errant driver to turn back.

And despite the rash of spectacularly bad wrong-way crashes in recent weeks, Arizona is typically among the safest states in the country, measured by the number of wrong-way crashes per person. Wrong-way crashes are very rare. One crash in 10,000 involves somebody who is going the wrong way.

But when they happen, they are almost always much worse. A quarter are fatal – 25 times more fatal than a typical crash. It’s a safe bet that the wrong-way driver is impaired, often with more than double the legal limit of booze in his bloodstream. And it is his bloodstream. Two-thirds of the wrong-way drivers are men.

But, Phoenix has been a hot spot in the past. In 2013 and 2014, Maricopa County was among the top 10 list of counties for the number of fatal wrong-way crashes.

ADOT’s working on it. Too late for two men and little comfort to their families.
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Sean Holstege is the editor of Phoenix New Times. He's been a print news reporter for 35 years. He was an investigative reporter at The Arizona Republic and the Oakland Tribune. He won a Sigma Delta Chi award for investigative reporting. He’s covered transportation, terrorism, the border, disasters, child welfare, courts, and breaking news.
Contact: Sean Holstege