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DPS: Wrong-way driver stopped after 37 miles on I-17; another stopped on SR-87

Posted at 4:37 AM, Sep 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-10 09:30:48-04

A wrong-way driver traveled 37 miles along I-17 before it was stopped near New River early Monday morning.

According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, a wrong-way driver was reportedly headed southbound in the northbound lanes near milepost 271 around 1:50 a.m.

A Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office deputy was able to parallel the wrong-way vehicle while other officials were called to help.

Spike strips were used on the vehicle near milepost 234, near New River, deflating all four tires.

Take a look at the approximate route of the wrong-way driver in the map below.

The driver and passenger were taken into custody. The driver, identified as Andrew White, was booked into jail on felony DUI charges.

"I flashed my brights at him, like hey man...a warning," said witness Craig Barnes. "He flashes his lights back like 'hey, I'm not doing nothing wrong.' [He] zooms right past me."

It's unclear specifically where White allegedly entered I-17 heading the wrong direction.

"He said he attended the Cardinals game," said DPS Sgt. Kameron Lee. "That ended at six o'clock in the afternoon so where he went from there and where he was going just shows a level of impairment that he had, because he wasn't quite sure where he was."

As for the 37 miles heading in the wrong direction, DPS says responding to this incident involved two separate challenges. "We are limited on our staffing," Sgt. Lee said. "We're 300 positions short right now and we're trying to recruit and hire but in these rural areas of Arizona our staffing is very minimal, meaning we have one trooper for maybe hundreds of miles. We're trying to get those filled so that we can have a better response time in our rural areas."

This particular stretch of I-17, where south and northbound lanes are separated throughout the mountainous terrain, also presented a challenge.

"One of the problems we have is we can't just cut across the median to try and intercept' difficult to do," Sgt. Lee said.

Fortunately, there were no injuries or crashes. "If we call it a miracle, I guess we can, but it's amazing that nothing happened because we've seen the devastating effects of wrong way drivers," Sgt. Lee said.

According to court documents, White's employer is listed as Verde Valley Medical Center. They released the following statement Monday afternoon:

“Andrew White is not an employee of Verde Valley Medical Center but is employed by another organization that provides us with traveling caregivers to fill vacancies until permanent staff can be hired. “While it is our policy not to comment on personnel issues specific to any individual, at Verde Valley Medical Center our Mission is ‘Improving health, healing people,’ which is why we encourage our colleagues to be role models within our communities and engage in healthy, safe behaviors. VVMC takes the safety of our communities very seriously and does not tolerate behavior that endangers our families, friends and neighbors.”

Another wrong-way driver was stopped late Sunday night, just before midnight. The call initially came in near SR-87 and McDowell Road.

Salt River police say a witness saw the driver headed northbound in the southbound lanes before self-correcting. Officers arrived to the scene and located the vehicle.

They conducted a welfare check on the driver who was "not observed in commission of any violations and released."