KOLD INVESTIGATES: Is ADOT putting lives at risk on I-10?

(Tucson News Now)
Updated: Sep. 13, 2018 at 9:05 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Mike Humphrey made a promise to his wife Pam and his sister Ann, to make Arizona’s highways safer.

He made the promise AFTER they were killed in a brutal crossover crash on I-10 in 2008.

Pam lost control after swerving to avoid something on the road, the car crossed over the median and slammed head-on into a semi.

"It was the worst day of my life...I kissed them goodbye that morning and said see you this afternoon. You know just like you go to Phoenix, you come home, but my life was just shattered," he said.

And the shattering continued.

Mike's brother-in-law, Ann's husband, couldn't pick up the pieces after the crash. He ultimately committed suicide several years later.

Now ten years later, white crosses remembering Pam and Ann still stand alongside I-10 at milepost 171. Humphrey is still fighting to put something else in the middle of the road - cable median barriers.

KOLD Investigates: Is ADOT putting lives at risk on I-10?

He says they would have prevented the deaths of his wife and sister, and would keep other drivers from suffering the same fate.

"If you're going on a road and God willing we have cables and you hit that cable, yeah your car is gonna get kinda scratched up and messed up, but you're gonna get out of that car alive," Humphrey said.

Humphrey sued the Arizona Department of Transportation and the state for wrongful death, arguing that ADOT should have installed barriers because there was evidence that stretch of I-10 had a history of crossover crashes. The jury agreed and awarded Humphrey $40 million.

During the trial, Humphrey presented evidence of 11 previous crossover crashes on the same ten-mile stretch of I-10 in the five years before Pam and Ann died.

However, Humphrey says the barriers are more important than the money. Before the trial started Humphrey had his attorney send a letter to the state offering to settle and receive no money if ADOT would put in one mile of cable barrier at mile marker 171.

The cost about $200,000.

I asked him if he was amazed by ADOT's reaction throughout the process. He responded, "I am. I'm amazed at their adversarial take on this kind of stuff. I would think they want to work with victim families."

The Glazers are another victim family. A jury awarded them $8 million after a crash killed a father and daughter, also at milepost 171, just nine months before the Humphrey crash.

That's about $50 million in taxpayer money, and there are other lawsuits still working their way through the courts. The cost to put the barriers along the entire stretch between Tucson and Phoenix would be about $12 million.

ADOT claims that NOT having barriers is actually the safest thing to do.

I spoke to Steve Boschen, who is ADOT’s assistant director. He said “We recognize juries have spoken, but we have to do what’s safest for the people that we serve...It’s actually safer not to have a barrier. A barrier is a hazard, and we have a pinball effect if we had a barrier out there. I’d be creating more harm than good for the 10 million safe passages between Phoenix and Tucson that you are asking about.”

But many other states say cable barriers do much more good than harm.

I looked at department of transportation websites in states all over the country.

Many specifically advertise that cable medians on their roads save lives. Boschen says those statements don't apply to I-10 in Arizona, because our medians are much wider.

"A lot of those states that you heard about probably have a median of 35 or 40 feet....," Boschen said. "Here, where you have a 75-foot or wider median, the intention is to have a wide recovery area so the car can slow down, stop, recover, then get back on safely."

He also said ADOT would not consider putting in one mile of cable median barriers as a pilot program, because that would go against national traffic safety guidelines.

“We’d get sued by the same attorneys that sue us for not having a barrier, if we did have a barrier,” he said.

ADOT's only tracked crossover crashes for the last three years. And in that time, there have been seven crashes in the same area as the Humphrey crash, from mile markers 160 to 180.

He told me there would need to be 5 or 10 in the same exact mile marker in the same year - then they would take another look at the situation.

Humphrey maintains the issue is about safety, not lawsuits.

He says if the cables end up in the ground, it will mean “Everything. It will mean that they didn’t die in vain.”

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