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Exclusive: Uber driver narrowly avoids wrong-way driver on Harbor Bridge

Banta
Posted at 3:48 PM, Feb 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-24 00:13:54-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — "It was so quick that there was barely any time to react, but our driver did. And I have no doubt that he saved our lives in his reaction," Steve Banta said.

Steve Banta, executive director of the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay, recalls a night of dreams, that ended in a near nightmare as a wrong-way driver came up the Harbor Bridge on Friday, narrowly avoiding the car he and his wife were riding in.

The museum's annual fundraiser, the 30th annual Stage Door Canteen, was a special one, as it is the Lexington's 80th anniversary.

And while a work event for Steve Banta, he was able to steal a moment for a dance with his wife, before the couple gathered with staff at a nearby restaurant to celebrate the successful evening.

That's when the Bantas decided to call an Uber to take them home.

A trip that involved traveling southbound over the Harbor Bridge.

It was there, on the crest of the bridge, where both Steve and Sarah Banta say their Uber driver, Forrest Festner, made a split-second decision, with headlights barreling towards them.

"We're all chatting and then all of a sudden there are these lights coming at us and for a second I thought, 'What is happening?'" Sarah Banta said. "And they were closing in quickly and he just darted out of the way and kept going and I immediately called 911."

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Forrest Festner, a local Uber driver, came face-to-face with a wrong-way driver on the Harbor Bridge

A trooper with the Department of Public Safety stopped that wrong-way driver, with Portland Police Department assisting. But not before that driver made it from the Harbor Bridge onto the Nueces Bay Causeway.

Two independent, credible sources tell 6 Investigates that this driver "was sober." An incident report from the Portland PD states the driver performed poorly on a field sobriety test.

And while the Bantas are coming to terms with what they say was a "near-miss," they said they are speaking out, asking for action following this event, and after watching part one of 'Facing Danger' by KRIS 6 News.

WATCH PART 1 OF 'FACING DANGER' HERE

"It was almost incapacitating for me, it was just very, very scary because you know we have seen, you know, there are reports that you (KRIS 6 News) have done," Sarah Banta said. "So many times that could have turned out differently and if we had made a different decision and decided to drive ourselves after celebrating, that could have made a very different impact in our lives."

Steve and Sarah Banta are joining others, like Susan Hardinger, whose sister Julie Gatheral, was killed by an intoxicated wrong-way driver on the Harbor Bridge in 2015.

"There needs to be some action, whatever that action is, I'd like to see something happen that's more than just some signs getting put into place," Sarah Banta said. "I don't have the solution, this is not my area, but this is someone's area, and someone has expertise in this and there needs to be something that's being done. You know, no action is action, doing nothing is making a decision and this, this has to stop. There have been enough cases, there's been enough tragedy, we were almost a tragedy and that needs to stop."

"I do know that you know something needs to be done if there's a trend like this and people are getting killed then something should be looked at," Steve Banta said.

And while they don't have the solutions, they say solutions exist in other cities. But that inaction here has to stop.

"I think that the loss of a loved one is, you can never take that away, or explain it, but then to see the inaction is, it's just disrespectful," Sarah Banta said of the families who have lost people on the bridge.

Those families, and now the Bantas, still waiting for answers to Hardinger's question.

"How many people have to die in this bridge before something is done with these ramps?" Hardinger asks.

TxDOT did not respond to our questions by the time part one aired on Feb. 15. On Wednesday,TxDOT answered. But, rather than answering the questions provided, the state agency provided a statement and said all questions were addressed.

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