Three people, including an 85-year-old man, an 83-year-old woman and a 17-year-old girl, were killed and three others were injured in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 95 in North Stonington, Connecticut Wednesday night.
Connecticut State Police say the 911 calls started coming in at 7:45 p.m. Police were alerted to a driver heading southbound in the northbound lanes of I-95 near the North Stonington exit. Moments later, police say another call came in, this time reporting a head on collision. Three people were killed; Roger and Dorothy Noel both in their 80s and from Warwick and the 17-year-old wrong-way driver from Westerly.
"A wrong way driver is kind of your worst case scenario. Because you could be wearing your seatbelt and you could be driving defensively and still you don't expect to see those headlights coming at you,” said AAA Greater Hartford Spokesperson Amy Parmenter.
Parmenter said whether you’re the wrong way driver or you see one, the goal is to get out of that situation as quickly as possible.
“To pull over to call 911. That is something of course we saw in this situation. There were a number of calls in to 911 but sometimes that tragedy can happen so quickly because you have a wrong way driver, it's on a highway, it's night time that combination is really an accident waiting to happen.”
“It affects everybody. That’s even sadder,” Bill Whitright of Richmond, Rhode Island pointed out.
Whitright drives back and forth from his Richmond, Rhode Island home to work in Groton every day along the same route where the crash happened. He doesn’t understand how the teen got confused.
“If you’re taking the exit ramp and you looking your rear-view mirror you can see the signs. They say wrong way do not enter. There’s usually two sets of signs,” said Whitright.
Arthur Fischer agrees.
“I don’t think there’s a problem. We should be very careful,” said Arthur Fischer of Orange.
Connecticut State Police are still investigating the crash. A Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesperson questions whether the teen got onto the highway in the wrong direction via a ramp.
“Certainly there’s opportunities for motorists to stop and turn around on the highway or to cross the center median,” said Kevin Nursick.
Last year, the state of Connecticut finished a $5.5 million project to upgrade the wrong-way signs at all of the state’s 700 on and off ramps.
“Every ramp has no less than six warning signs telling you that you are going to be getting on the highway in the wrong direction. They’re very visible. They’re reflective, they’re larger, and they are lower to the ground to be more in line with the motorists’ vision,” said Nursick.
"I’ve never really seen any issues. So, I don’t really think it’s confusing,” said Ian Senecal of Norwalk, who drives the route to Rhode Island for work every other week. "It’s just incredibly unfortunate."
Meanwhile, on the other side of the state the DOT is in the midst of working on a pilot program to cut down even further on one-way crashes. A camera will gauge whether a car is coming in the wrong direction and alert the driver with an additional signal.
“This is as in your face as you can be. Flashing lights. Wrong way,” said Nursick.
It will still be some time before most intersections see that technology. Nursick further down the line are cameras that alert police of wrong-way drivers. He said Connecticut does not currently have the infrastructure to support that.
There have been 129 crashes between exits 92 and 93 in Stonington in the past five years, according to data collected by the University of Connecticut’s Transportation Safety Research Center. However, none of those were wrong-way crashes, until Wednesday night.
“They were in their golden years, enjoying each other and for something as horrible as this to happen, I can’t understand how. I feel sorry for the people involved,” said Whitright.