Earlier this past December, Scarsdale native Zachary Tokson was arrested after a wrong way crash on I-684 left one dead. The 23-year-old was driving northbound in the southbound lanes in the early morning and collided head on with a Ford Focus driven by 64-year-old Mount Kisco resident, Elena Lopez. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Wrong-way crashes present an issue to Departments of Transportation all across the country. In fact, a 2012 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Special Report stated that there is an average of 261 fatal wrong way crashes each year. This represents 2.8 percent of all fatal accidents on divided highways.
This type of accident is unfortunately all too familiar to Westchester residents. Diane Schuler’s 2009 wrong-way crash on the Taconic State Parkway that left eight dead made national news. The accident that claimed the lives of Schuler, four children under the age of 10, and three men in the vehicle she hit was the inspiration for the 2011 HBO Documentary, There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane. The title is a chilling reference to some of the last words ever uttered by her niece.
The increased attention to this issue has not made it entirely avoidable.
A wrong-way crash in February of 2015 claimed the life of NYPD Detective Paul Duncan. He was killed when his car was struck by a vehicle driven by 20-year-old Yonkers resident Efren Moreano, who was traveling northbound in the southbound lanes of the Sprain Brook Parkway. Moreano, who was drunk at the time, was charged with second-degree manslaughter, a felony.
“The most common scenario of these accidents is the presence of drugs and alcohol,” says Kieran O’Leary, spokesperson for the Westchester County Police Department.
“Someone who isn’t under the influence is going to quickly recognize that they have made a mistake,” he continues. “It is those drivers who are impaired that spend a longer amount of time on the highway.”
This frightening trend is evident in the circumstances surrounding the accidents in Westchester. Schuler’s B.A.C measured 0.19 at the time of her crash and also tested positive for marijuana. Moreano’s B.A.C registered 0.11 at the time of his accident and deputies reported smelling marijuana in the vehicle when they arrived on the scene. At this time it is unknown whether or not drugs or alcohol played a role in Tokson’s December accident.
Law enforcement officials work hand-in-hand with the New York State Department of Transportation in order to make the roadways as safe as possible. “Safety is NYSDOT’s top priority,” says Department spokesperson Gina DiSarro. “Our first step is always to work with law enforcement to get a better understanding of the contributing factors which may have led to the accident.”
NYSDOT also takes a proactive role in preventing these accidents. Their work in a 2010 sign survey is examined in the 2012 NTSB report. The examination of 450 exit ramps led to the replacement of approximately 1,500 signs in New York state. Of these, nearly 1,000 were related to highway access. Not only that, but wrong-way arrows on exit ramps were also repainted. According to DiSarro, steps like these are taken in order to reduce the likelihood of wrong-way accidents.
In the event of encountering a wrong-way driver, taking a few precautions could save a life. According to a New York State Police spokesperson, drivers should pull off to the side of the road and try to gather as much information as possible about the vehicle in question before calling 911. Additionally, it is important to advise officers of the location of the vehicle as fast as possible. Timing is crucial, the sooner police become aware of the problem, the sooner they can act to take care of it.
Top photo by LincolnGroup11 used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 unported license