Charlee Combs said she drove around the bend on Interstate 74 Monday morning and immediately came upon a frightening sight. A Cadillac that had just been in a crash was stopped and blocking the lanes in front of her.
“I just closed my eyes and held on,” Combs told WCPO. “I don’t think I was thinking anything. I was just holding on.”
Police say the wrong-way Cadillac – which had been going east in the westbound lanes – caused a four-vehicle crash just west of the Miami Whitewater exit at State Route 128. Seven people were hurt and two were critical — including a child.
The 2:30 a.m. crash closed part of I-74 for most of the morning.
Combs said she was driving home from work and nearly went over the guardrail to avoid crashing.
“I swerved to try to miss it and when I swerved I realized I was close to the very edge of the guardrail. Going further I would’ve went over the guardrail,” she said. “So I just put the brakes on and held on tight.”
Investigators say the Cadillac first hit an oncoming Mazda and spun out. Then a freight truck and Combs’ car hit the Cadillac.
The Mazda driver and a 5-year-old in that car were most seriously injured. A 3-year-old was transported for observation. The two children were not wearing seatbelts, police said.
Combs was not injured.
Police say they believe alcohol was a factor in the crash.
Police are still trying to figure out where the Cadillac entered I-74 going the wrong way; 911 calls indicate it was before it came into Ohio from Indiana, authorities said.
ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning said wrong-way crashes are usually caused by impaired drivers and ODOT has been proactive in trying to prevent them.
Bruning said if the Cadillac had gone down one of their exit ramps, it would’ve passed at least six different signs warning the driver he or she was going in the wrong direction.
ODOT mandated 17 counties, including Hamilton County, for extra signs due to a high number of wrong-way crashes, Bruning said.
“We’ve double-upped the “Wrong Way and “Do Not Enter" signs on our exit ramps," Bruning said.
"The signs are placed at the 7- and 3-foot levels on the poles. We’ve added reflective material to the poles. All of this is an attempt to catch the attention of impaired drivers because studies have shown that when you’re impaired by alcohol, you tend to look downward as opposed to up," Bruning said. "We’re trying to put those signs lower to catch their attention."
In addition to the signs, raised pavement markers along highways reflect red when a driver is traveling in the wrong direction, he said.
ODOT’s efforts might be paying off. There have been 16 wrong-way crashes in Ohio so far this year, Bruning said. In 2018 there were 26. Five years ago, there were more than 60.
No one has been charged in Monday's crash.
The Sheriff’s Traffic Safety Unit is investigating. Witnesses should call 513-825-1500.