Wrong-way drivers

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By Optic Editorial Board

Who can forget the Nov. 11, 2006, Interstate 25 crash in which wrong-way driver Dana Papst plowed head-on with a minivan carrying a Las Vegas family?

Killed in that horrific crash just east of Santa Fe were Paul Gonzales, 36, his wife, Renee Collins Gonzales, 39, along with their daughters Jacquelynn Renee Gonzales, 11, and Selena Gonzales, 10, and Paul Gonzales’ 17-year-old stepdaughter Alisha Rae Garcia.

Papst, the wrong-way driver whose blood alcohol content was 0.32 percent, four-times the state’s presumed level of intoxication, died the following day at the hospital.

Just before the crash, dispatchers received multiple calls about the wrong-way driver. In the days following that tragedy there were many questions, including whether anything could have been done to prevent it.

On Saturday night, state police were once again faced with multiple calls about a wrong-way driver in the south-bound lanes of Interstate 25 between Las Vegas and Santa Fe.

This time, officers were able to catch up with that driver, and they took every step necessary to neutralize the threat.

There’s no question that the pursuit was dangerous. The wrong-way driver, 72-year-old Albert J. Urban of Hamburg, N.Y., refused to pull over, forcing officers to deploy stop sticks in an effort to flatten the vehicles tires.

The first attempt failed, but the second attempt flattened one of the vehicle’s tires.

Officers next used the Precision Immobilization Technique to try to force the vehicle off the road. That stopped the vehicle briefly, but the driver then accelerated the vehicle toward officers who were out of their unit by that time.

One of the officers fired his weapon at Urban, hitting him.

Every officer-involved shooting and high-speed pursuit that occurs deserves scrutiny. But in this instance, based on the information state police have released so far, it appears to us that the officers were justified in the actions they took.

There’s no telling how many lives were saved by these officers who were determined to get this driver off the road.

One need only look to the Papst crash to see the damage that a wrong-way driver can cause.