Two impaired drivers collide on I-696

Police say one motorist was driving the wrong way

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published May 16, 2024

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Police say two drivers struck each other head on in Madison Heights when one of them drove against traffic on Interstate 696.

The weekend collision occurred early in the morning May 5. Dispatchers received calls around 4:35 a.m. alerting them to a wrong-way driver that crashed on I-696 near Dequindre Road.

According to Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw, the wrong-way driver was behind the wheel of a Chrysler 300, headed eastbound in the westbound lanes of I-696.

The Chrysler 300, driven by a 40-year-old Eastpointe man, crashed into an oncoming Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by a 52-year-old man from Huntington, Indiana. Both were transported to the hospital with injuries from the crash.

Shaw said that both drivers showed signs of impairment. Police obtained search warrants for a blood draw on each driver. At press time, police were waiting for the test results to arrive from the lab, at which point investigators will submit a report to prosecutors for possible charges.

No one else was injured.

“Over the weekend (of May 5), troopers in the district arrested 13 impaired drivers,” Shaw said in a statement. “There are so many options available to avoid getting behind the wheel impaired.”

Brent LeMerise, the police chief of Madison Heights, said via email that his department has been stepping up road patrols to stop reckless drivers. In 2023, Madison Heights police arrested 169 drivers for operating while intoxicated — nearly one drunken driving arrest every other day.

“When it comes to an operating while intoxicated charge, the first and second offense is a misdemeanor, but a third offense becomes a felony. Add in injuries, and the penalties become stiffer. Fines, court costs and attorney fees will easily be in the thousands. There could be penalties imposed by the court such as reporting probation or an ignition interlock device on your vehicle. Your insurance will likely skyrocket,” LeMerise warned.

“Imagine what you will have to live with if you choose to drink and drive, and then cause injury to someone,” he continued. “The regret and shame are something that will likely never go away.”

Distracted driving is also a concern. Last month, Madison Heights police participated in a campaign by the Office of Highway Safety Planning, in which the department’s officers wrote 39 citations for distracted driving.

Under state law, distracted driving now includes manipulating a handheld phone while driving, so motorists should use hands-free technology for making and taking calls behind the wheel.

“Unfortunately, as hard as we work to maximize the safety of our community by enforcing these laws, people are still taking unnecessary risks,” LeMerise said. “Before making an irreversible mistake, we ask that motorists consider using available ride sharing, and keep their phones hands-free while driving.”

The chief also noted that OHSP campaigns are funded by a state grant, and there are six to eight each year, targeting different driver behaviors. In addition to cracking down on distracted and impaired drivers, the campaigns also target seatbelt violations and speeding.

David Soltis, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, said he has been increasingly concerned about reckless drivers in the community.

“It’s the idiot drivers who are in a hurry and don’t care they’re endangering others that are the problem here,” Soltis said. “In all my time driving, I’ve never seen it like this. So many crazy drivers on the road, right on your bumper, taking up your rearview mirror. You feel like you can’t slow or stop without them crashing or stopping at the last minute. And when you leave space in front of you like you should, they’re zooming in and out,” Soltis said.

“I appreciate our police patrol officers, but I think we need to be even more proactive cracking down on aggressive and distracted drivers,” the councilman said. “Maybe we could do more to monitor things and stop them.”