HOUSTON - Experts say the Houston area’s wrong-way drunk driving problem is persistent and does not appear to be getting any better.
“We’ve been getting more cases, and it’s not just drunk driving, we have also seen an increase in drugged driving cases,” said Rosa Villanueva, a victim’s service advocate at Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. “Many of those crashes have been caused by drivers that get on the highway the wrong way, driving on the highway the wrong way.”
Elizabeth Madelynn Nichols, 22, was arrested early Wednesday morning after driving the wrong way down I-45 North near West Road. Some of it was caught on video. Nichols has been charged with driving while intoxicated and felony drug possession.
“You’re heading home and you’re not expecting that to happen,” Villanueva said. “You can be driving and have someone in front of you who pulls over suddenly, and there is a driver coming towards them, and they don’t have any time to react.”
Nichols' arrest is the second wrong-way, suspected drunk driving arrest to happen on a major roadway in less than a week. A woman was arrested Saturday after crashing into two other vehicles while driving the wrong way on the Pierce Elevated near downtown. Two people in other cars were seriously hurt. The driver has been charged with intoxication assault.
Most Houston-area freeways and on-ramps have “wrong way” signage indicating to a driver that he or she is heading into oncoming traffic. M.A.D.D. points out some of the area’s toll roads have lights that indicate a driver is going the wrong way.
“You will see them red, instead of seeing them white, they will have some signs that will tell that driver that he’s going to wrong way,” Villanueva said. “Obviously, when they’re intoxicated, they’re not paying attention to that.”
Villanueva says the most memorable wrong-way, drunk driving case happened eight years ago when two teenagers were killed near The Woodlands.
Nicole Baukus, 24, hit-and-killed Nicole Adams, 19, and Travis Saunders, 18, as she drove the wrong way down I-45 near FM 242 on June 29, 2012. David Porras, a passenger, was severely injured but survived.
Prosecutors showed video during the trial of Baukus drinking more than a dozen shots and several beers before leaving a bar that night. Baukus was convicted and sentenced to 38 years in prison.