Driver impairment leads to commuter headaches

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 2, 2011



LAPLACE – An impaired driver on Interstate 10 near the Bonnet Carre Spillway caused a pair of multiple vehicle accidents that shut down the eastbound interstate and snarled traffic between LaPlace and New Orleans for several hours Friday morning.

Trooper Melissa Matey, a spokesperson for State Police, said the first crash occurred around 3:25 a.m. at mile marker 215.5 when the drunk driver slammed into the back of a State Trooper’s unit who was working a construction detail.

“The unit had its overhead lights on in the right lane at the time of the accident,” Matey said. “The driver, who showed signs of impairment, did not slow down in time.”

Less than 20 minutes after the initial accident, another collision occurred about half a mile behind the first accident when an 18-wheeler in the right lane of the interstate hit the back of a Kia Sportage and another 18-wheeler sitting idle in the left lane.

Matey said the Sportage was in front of the 18-wheeler in the right lane when it stopped short because of the traffic. She said the driver of the 18-wheeler behind the vehicle was distracted and could not stop in time. She said the driver tried to swerve, but ended up hitting the back of the Sportage before crashing into the other 18-wheeler, which was stopped in the left lane.

“That’s where the real traffic struggle occurred,” Matey said. “The two 18-wheelers became fused together and needed to be pried apart. Both were loaded with cargo and hard to pull apart without the help of heavy-duty wreckers.

Matey said the impaired driver in the first crash, whose name was not immediately available, was found to be over the legal limit for blood alcohol content. She said State Police performed a field sobriety test and arrested the driver for DWI and careless operation of a motor vehicle. She also said the driver of the 18-wheeler who caused the second accident was sited for careless operation of a motor vehicle.

The trooper involved in the first accident suffered minor injuries and was treated on the scene. The drivers of both 18-wheelers were transported to Ochsner Hospital in Kenner for treatment of minor injuries.

Matey said both accidents were 100 percent preventable and caused by driver impairment or distraction. She said Friday’s incident should serve as a lesson in careful driving.

“We cannot stress that enough to drivers,” Matey said. “All it takes is a split second of distraction, and you are in an accident. This is why we emphasize DWI checkpoints and safe driving courses.”

The accident forced the closure of the eastbound lanes of I-10 over the spillway for the second time in less than a week. The roadway was closed Wednesday morning when an 18-wheeler lost its drive shaft, which tumbled down the roadway and struck the saddlebags of another 18-wheeler spilling diesel fuel on the roadway.

Friday’s accident and Wednesday’s accident forced motorists heading toward New Orleans to detour off the interstate onto U.S. Highway 51 and Airline Highway into the city. The detour caused miles of backups and more than doubled drive times into the city. Matey said Friday’s accident was cleared just after 8:30 a.m., and traffic began flowing smoothly.