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Originally published January 11, 2012 at 9:41 PM | Page modified January 13, 2012 at 6:05 AM

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How troopers averted wrong-way disaster on 18 miles of I-5

A woman who drove 18 miles the wrong way on a freeway early Wednesday was charged with DUI though police say she's lucky. "It's amazing she didn't kill someone," said a WSP spokesman.

Seattle Times staff reporter


View Woman drives wrong way on I-5 for 18 miles in a larger map. (Graphic by Sharon Pian Chan / The Seattle Times)
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Reckless endangerment!? That's going too easy on her, that's flat out reckless driving... MORE
Take her license and her car. She has no "right" to be on our roads. MORE
Credit to the cops for not allowing anybody to get injured, including the drunken lady... MORE

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It was a tragedy waiting to happen unless they could stop it.

The State Patrol troopers tried their sirens, spotlights and even the PA system on their patrol cars, but nothing seemed to capture the attention of the driver who was careening north on Interstate 5 in the wrong direction early Wednesday morning.

One trooper raced alongside the car, on the northbound lanes of the freeway, trying to alert the driver that she was heading toward potential disaster. Others tried to deploy spike strips, but were initially unsuccessful "because the driver was all over the place, using all the lanes," said Trooper Guy Gill.

Cars in the southbound lanes flashed their high beams at the oncoming car, trying to warn the driver. Some narrowly avoided head-on collisions.

Finally, after the wrong-way driver covered nearly 18 miles at speeds up to 100 mph, troopers were able to stop the white Lincoln LS by using spike strips to flatten the tires.

By then, the driver, identified as Pamela Drawsby, 60, of Olympia, had traveled from Tumwater to the freeway exit near the main gate at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Drawsby was arrested and booked into Pierce County Jail. She was charged later in the day in Thurston County District Court with driving under the influence.

Gill, a State Patrol spokesman, said the nerve-shattering ride began shortly before 2 a.m. with reports of a white passenger car blocking an intersection in Tumwater.

A few minutes later, police began getting the first of what would be a slew of 911 calls reporting a white car heading north in the southbound lanes of I-5.

"When we get a call like that, obviously troopers are heading that way quickly," Gill said.

Troopers located the Lincoln but were unable to get the driver to stop, he said.

During the wild ride, Drawsby's car was clocked at speeds that varied from 30 mph to over 100 mph, Gill said.

Troopers began closing down the freeway in Tacoma, "just in case it got that far."

Truck driver Rick Ingraham was driving south on I-5 when he noticed a flurry of drivers flashing their brights at him. It was either an accident or a cop with radar, he thought, so he slowed down and moved over.

Seconds later, the Lincoln "zoomed right by," he said. "It's over fast, but your heart is still pounding."

He said it was "amazing" and "probably a miracle" there were no injuries.

Despite other "extremely close calls," Gill said, the driver made it from milepost 102 to 120 without injury or accident.

Gill said troopers cautiously approached the Lincoln because they "had no idea what they were going to get," he said.

What they found, he said, was an intoxicated and confused woman who had "no idea what was going on."

Drawsby could face additional charges of reckless endangerment, according to Gill. He said Drawsby had no prior criminal convictions.

A man who answered the phone at Drawsby's home Wednesday evening said he didn't want to talk about the incident.

"I don't feel like it," he said.

Gill said Drawsby likely doesn't feel fortunate, "but it could have been so much worse. It's actually amazing it wasn't."

Seattle Times news researchers Miyoko Wolf and David Turim contributed to this report.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com.

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