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Trending the wrong way: August sets record for wrong-way highway drivers

Jonathan Tease takes off after a 45-minute chase. Courtesy: Brown County Sheriff's Office
Jonathan Tease takes off after a 45-minute chase. Courtesy: Brown County Sheriff's Office(WBAY)
Published: Sep. 6, 2019 at 3:31 PM CDT
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August set a record in Northeast Wisconsin, but not a good one.

It marks the highest number of wrong-way drivers recorded on our roads in more than a year-and-a-half.

Of the 16 reported wrong-way drivers, 5 were in Brown County, 6 were in Fond du Lac County, 4 were in Winnebago County and 1 was in Outagamie County.

So far this year, six counties -- Brown, Fond du Lac, Winnebago, Outagamie, Manitowoc and Sheboygan -- report 54 wrong-way drivers on divided highways or interstates where drivers are travelling at high speeds.

Those numbers are concerning to the people responsible for keeping our roads safe.

"The thing that shocks me with 16 of them is that normally something like that would result in a death," says Captain Dan Sandberg, patrol division leader of the Brown County Sheriff's Office. "We didn't have a death, so we got really lucky."

But he is not okay with relying on luck when Brown County has the second-highest number of wrong way drivers in Northeast Wisconsin this year.

One of those is that terrifying pursuit we were first to show you last month where officers say Jonathan Tease drove the wrong way on I-43 at high speeds, then onto an off-ramp, before a deputy stopped him (

).

He was arrested for suspected drug impairment.

Two other wrong-way drivers in Brown County this year were arrested for drunken driving with blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit.

In all, Brown County has had 13 wrong-way drivers this year, the same as Fond du Lac.

Winnebago County has 21.

The DOT tracks statistics of all the reported wrong-way drivers, looking for trends to help law enforcement know where and how to attack the problem.

Two-thirds have happened in darkness, but they occurred on multiple, different highways and interstates.

So why so many in the first place?

"We've been trying to research that, and if we can collect that information we're trying to get that, but the problem is, especially when the ones that have been drinking or high on drugs, they can't remember where they came on the highway," says Sandberg. "If we could pinpoint some of those locations, then we could probably put some equipment out there, that technology-wise would be able to alert us when somebody goes the wrong way on either an on-ramp or off-ramp."

He says that kind of technology is being tested in the Milwaukee area, but it's very expensive so he needs to pinpoint specific problem areas first.

One thing he thinks is actually helping is the placement of message boards along some highways and interstates.

If a camera spots a wrong-way driver, or if one is reported to law enforcement, they can activate those message boards to flash warnings to drivers that a suspected wrong-way driver may be approaching.

"I think they're a great tool. I just wish we had more out there on some of the stretches of roads. I think there are some areas that are dead spots that we could really use those boards to help us out," says Sandberg.

In the meantime he says drivers need to remain alert day or night.

"It's sad we've got to try to give this advice but the best thing to do is give that awareness, watching further down the road, but then staying in that right lane whenever you can," he explains. "Because even when people are intoxicated or high on drugs they go in habit, which is always staying to the right side of the road. So if you're in that passing lane, that's where you're at most jeopardy."

Wrong-way drivers by county

First eight months of 2019

Brown - 13

Fond du Lac - 13

Manitowoc - 3

Sheboygan - 2

Winnebago - 21

August 2019

Brown - 5

Fond du Lac - 6

Outagamie - 1

Winnebago - 4

July 2019

Brown - 2

Fond du lac - 1

Sheboygan - 1

Winnebago - 3

June 2019

Brown - 1

Fond du Lac - 3

Outagamie - 1

Winnebago -  3

May 2019

Brown - 2

Fond du Lac - 1

Manitowoc - 3

Winnebago - 3

April 2019

Brown - 1

Winnebago - 1

March 2019

Brown - 1

Fond du Lac - 2

Winnebago - 4

February 2019

Brown - 1

Winnebago - 3

January 2019

Sheboygan - 1

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