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Wrong-way driver travels nearly 17 miles before crashing car

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Posted at 10:18 PM, Mar 06, 2023

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A Brownsville man allegedly drove the wrong way over the Harbor Bridge, through Portland, and past Aransas Pass before crashing his truck early Saturday morning.

That driver was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.

It is potentially the second wrong-way driver in two weeks that may have accessed the southbound lane of the Harbor Bridge via one of several exit ramps.

As KRIS 6 News previously reported, Steve and Sarah Banta credited Uber driver Forrest Festner with narrowly avoiding a collision with a wrong-way driver on the bridge following an event on Feb. 18.

6 Investigates obtained 911 calls from the Portland Police Department that chronicle the events of Saturday's wrong-way driver.

A call from the Corpus Christi Police Department's MetroCom alerted the Portland Police Department to the driver after he had made it over the Harbor Bridge and was on the way to Portland.

"Hi, this is Stephanie from the Corpus Christi Police Department. We have a wrong-way driver, it’s going to be on Highway 181," a dispatcher said in the 911 audio. "It’s going to be a white truck going northbound in the southbound lane."

The dispatcher from Portland asked if they have already crossed over the Harbor Bridge and CCPD's dispatcher said they had received several calls, but the last known location was the bridge.

Before disconnecting the call, the CCPD said the driver is traveling at a high rate of speed.

"And they did say that he was speeding, and somebody tried to flash their lights at him and he wasn’t slowing down at all," CCPD's dispatcher said.

The car speeding was echoed by other 911 calls received by the Portland PD, which tracked the driver's movements through Portland, before transferring callers to the San Patricio County Sheriff's Office dispatch.

"There’s a truck on the opposite side of the highway hauling (redacted)," one driver told the Portland PD dispatch.

The driver repeated the line before he said drivers are dodging the truck headed straight on toward them.

Eric Luera was one driver who faced that wrong-way driver head-on Saturday morning. Headlights blinding him, he turned his headlights off in an attempt to see better.

In an exclusive interview with 6 Investigates, Luera said it was the second time he had dodged a wrong-way driver on the Harbor Bridge or U.S. 181 in the last two weeks.

"If I wouldn't have moved to the right side, we would have hit, like crashed at each other," Luera said. "I feel like if it's happening to me, it can happen to anybody else, and I'm just glad nothing did happen. I mean, I dodged another one, so it's just pretty scary, a scary situation to be in."

This latest incident is two days after the Texas Department of Transportation temporarily closed the Power Street exit to make changes to the roadway in response to wrong-way drivers.

"We need to continue to look at this problem because it is ongoing. Two wrong-way drivers in two weeks is a serious issue, even after a couple of attempts to make adjustments down in that area to get these drivers stopped," said Mark Cory, Portland Police Chief.

Luera, a phlebotomist at Christus Spohn Hospital Shoreline, said he travels U.S. 181 and the Harbor Bridge in the early morning hours to get to work but is looking at alternatives, including traveling a longer route, to avoid this roadway. He is asking officials to take action.

"We need to fix the problem ASAP, other people have already lost loved ones, and no one sees it coming," Luera said.

KRIS 6 News promised to push for solutions and ask tough questions when we debuted our special investigation Facing Danger.

In November, immediately after the most recent fatalities, KRIS 6 News began looking into why nothing has been done to protect those who use the Harbor Bridge and U.S. 181.

Eight people have died from wrong-way accidents on that stretch of roadway, between 2015-2022, and others have narrowly avoided a collision.

And in an interview with KRIS 6 News anchor Pat Simon, Gov. Greg Abbott said TxDOT's response to wrong-way drivers was "inadequate."

"While (TxDOT) are making an effort to try to do something about it, I consider that effort to be inadequate. And I expect greater urgency and greater effectiveness of the solutions they are providing," Abbott said.

In response to the governor's statement, Cory said, "I think it's awesome that you all reached out to him and got the governor involved, I believe with his involvement things will move much quicker and maybe there will be a quicker resolution to this problem."

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