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Pilot program aims to reduce deadly wrong-way crashes in Oklahoma

Posted at 10:57 AM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 06:58:46-05

TULSA, Okla. — Wrong-way drivers are a growing and devastating problem, causing multiple deadly crashes over the last few months in the Tulsa area.

Highway 75 near Ramona, the Muskogee Turnpike near Muskogee, the I-44 and Highway 75 interchange and near Highway 169 and 91st Street in Tulsa are all sites of these kinds of crashes.

Confusion in the dark of night, pretzel-like construction detours, and driving under the influence are just some of the reasons why these crashes are popping up.

A few minutes after midnight, on a beautiful fall weekend, came a knock on the door.

A trooper told Kristy and Jeff Murrow, their only daughter, Marissa Renee, had been hit, head-on, by a wrong way, drunk driver one fall weekend.

"It's devastating," Kristy Murrow tells us.

The day 2 News met with Murrow, to talk about her daughter, would have been Marissa's 21st birthday.

"It's that bad you never want anyone else to know this."

To help the family heal during the holidays, she put up a remembrance tree, as she calls it. It still stands in the corner of their living room, and in the center of their hearts.

On each branch, a memory, from Marissa's first day to her last. "She was part of our lives for 7,193 days and we're grateful for every single one of them."

Many times, since that day in October 2020, she says grief has squeezed her heart, without mercy, for months, not just emotionally, but physically.

This is how it must feel, Murrow says, to have your heart, break, "it's just the biggest gaping hole you can imagine."

She says her heart aches even more, as she listens to Marissa sing her favorite song.

"Music is both a blessing and a curse now," Murrow says. Marissa loved to sing, at church, at school, at home.

"It's tough when every single commute to work brings tears, you get tired of crying, but you can't help it."

AAA says an average of 500 people die in the 2,000 wrong-way driving incidents every year across the country.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is rolling out a pilot program to help stop the grieving. The $2.3 million pilot program includes improving signs and striping at four interchanges with confusing configurations, all along I-40 between Oklahoma City and the Arkansas state line.

"It's bad out there, it takes lives, so I'm excited someone is taking steps to remedy it," Murrow says.

It includes one interchange at Tiger Mountain, near Henryetta and at exits 287, 311. and 330.

At those interchanges, you'll soon see a new system to detect those driving the wrong way.

"It commands their attention," says Nick Schmidling, a senior product manager with TAPCO, a company that produces wrong-way detection systems, says it includes bright, blinking, LED warning signs.

Radar and thermal sensors trigger them when a driver enters a wrong way zone. TAPCO says it's especially effective for drunk drivers.

"It's the most valuable benefit of LED enhancement, it's very attention-grabbing in a sense," he said.

The system includes an alert activation zone, a self-correction zone, and a confirmation zone.

If a wrong-way driver doesn't turn around, an alert will be sent out automatically, to nearby law enforcement and to message signs, warning other drivers.

TAPCO says the high-tech flashing warning signs alone, have reduced wrong-way driving incidents from 85 to 98% in other parts of the country.

"Can you really put a cost or price on the loss of life, these situations are a national crisis, they're a national issue?" Schmidling says.

After a few months of testing those high-tech flashing signs at those interchanges, the state plans to add the automatic notification portion of the system.

Then, if they work successfully, the plan is to come up with the money to install the wrong-way prevention technology at other problem areas across the state.

That's encouraging news for the Murrows, who've tried to turn their daughter's death into positive change, including those problems of wrong-way to drunk driving.

Still, their daughter will never celebrate her 21st birthday.

"She would have been very excited, yeah," Kristy Murrow says.

Instead, Marissa's friends remembered her birthday, with flowers, and a cake and with candles, singing at her grave.

See this full story WEDNESDAY after the Olympics on 2 News Oklahoma

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