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A wrong-way driver who allegedly killed two people after he slammed into their vehicle Tuesday on Interstate 275 had an unsealed container of alcohol in his car, police said.

 

Michigan State Police plan to test the man’s blood to determine if he was intoxicated, Lt. Mike Shaw said. The driver is a 59-year-old from Wolverine Lake who sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Shaw said the container was a previously opened bottle of vodka. 

The crash, which happened about 10:35 a.m., shut down the northbound lanes of I-275 in Canton for about four hours. That stretch of freeway re-opened about 2:15 p.m., Shaw said.

Police say the wrong-way driver was headed southbound on the northbound side when two vehicles crashed.

The driver of a vehicle headed properly northbound and a passenger both died. One is a man and the other is a woman. Ages were not immediately available.

Shaw said there’s been a recent spike in drivers headed the wrong way on freeways.

“We’ve picked up quite an increase lately for some reason,” Shaw said. “I’m not sure what’s behind it, but we’re getting 15-20 wrong way driving incidents called into the dispatch center per month. 

“We don’t catch them all by the time we get there; sometimes they got off the freeway or realized their error and turned around. But when you get a crash with a wrong-way driver, it’s usually a fatal because of the speed. We’ve had about eight fatalities in the last five years.”

Shaw said the problem is so prevalent, state police are working with the Michigan Department of Transportation to alert drivers when someone is headed the wrong way on the freeway.

“They’ve instituted a protocol so when we have a one-way driver we can put on the electronic signs that there’s someone going the wrong way, so other drivers can be alerted.”

Last week, state police arrested a motorist who was allegedly driving the wrong way on I-75. Video footage shows 27-year-old Tonya Berta of Ida speeding south on the northbound lanes of the freeway near downtown Detroit. She was intoxicated and had a 1-year-old boy in the car, police said.

Berta was charged with driving while intoxicated with an occupant less than 16. A pre-exam conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. Dec. 19 in Hazel Park.

As of Tuesday morning, per the Michigan Department of Transportation, some 978 people had died in car crashes in Michigan in 2017. That's 31 below the total for this time last year. 

ghunter@detroitnews.com

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