It was May 14, 2008, mid-morning just south of the Valley, when Pamela Humphrey lost control of her SUV after swerving to miss an animal on Interstate 10
Her vehicle skidded then rolled across the dirt median into oncoming traffic before hitting a semi-truck head-on.
The wreckage left little doubt about whether Humphrey or her fellow passenger and sister-in-law, Ann Quinn, survived the crossover crash.
“What happened to her car is like, exploded. I wasn’t able to recognize her body,” said Mike Humphrey, Pam’s husband. “This is what happens when a car hits a semi at 75 mph.”
Ever since Mike Humphrey has been locked in a lengthy and costly legal battle with the Arizona Department of Transportation to place cable median barriers on Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson to prevent future crossover crashes.
Cable median barriers are high-tension wires strung along a series of posts. They look like this:
Studies show they are highly effective at preventing crossover incidents and have significantly decreased fatalities in other states. Indeed, the State of Arizona’s own experts agrees that cable median barriers are 95+% effective in preventing crossover crashes.
But on Interstate 10, from the south tip of the Valley to Tucson, there are roughly 60 miles of road without any barriers separating the eastbound and westbound lanes. Oh, but they have signs…
….which they created right after a Maricopa County jury awarded the Humphrey/Quinn families a $43,000,000 verdict against the State in December 2015.
Want to know how they came up with the idea?? A juror who otherwise knew nothing about these events drew it in trial and submitted it through the court. (Completely true)
“They just have to have these cables,” Humphrey said. “If a cable barrier was there, (his wife) would have hit the cable and she would have stopped…There needs to be pressure put on this agency to put the cables in.”
But Arizona Department of Transportation officials said that’s not going to happen, and despite a string of very expensive jury verdicts against the state, it doesn’t seem to be changing its mind.
“By putting up cable barriers we would be causing more harm than good,” said Steven Boschen, an assistant director with ADOT. “If we put a barrier out there, we are just introducing more harm. A barrier is actually a hazard and there would be more crashes.”
(OK. That is complete and utter garbage! The State’s own experts have testified under oath that cable median barriers are 95+% effective in preventing crossover crashes.
Boschen said most dirt medians on Interstate 10 are roughly 80 feet and that “very wide” separation is the “best design out there.”
(Really? At 75 mph, a car is traveling 110 feet every second. It would take less than a second to get across an 80-foot dirt median to reach the opposing lanes of travel which are also going 75 mph.
The DIRT is certainly not going to stop the car!)
“We don’t want to practice shotgun engineering,” Boschen said. “What I mean by that is, if there is a crash, we don’t want to immediately go out there and say there is a problem. We need to do a safety analysis out there. Interstate 10 is very straight and there’s really no deficiencies out there.”
But, unfortunately for Boschen’s argument, we have tracked the data, and know of many crossover events over the years, resulting in almost FOUR DOZEN lives lost.
The State would says “there are thousands of cars on I-10 every day, and a couple of FOUR DOZEN lives lost is not statistically significant. (Yeah? Tell that to the families who have lost loved ones, especially knowing that there is a relatively low-cost fix, but the State refuses to do it)
In the Humphrey/Quinn case, the jury awarded the families one of the largest in Arizona history: $43 million judgment against the state.
Four years earlier, in the same circumstance, a jury awarded the Glazer family an $8 million judgment against the state.
The jury in both cases believed that ADOT should have had cables along the stretch of I-10 and was negligent. The jury decision was based in part on evidence that was developed by the Humphrey/Quinn’s and Glazer’s legal team that showed Interstate 10 has had a history of crossover crashes.
Mike Humphrey and his legal team provided ABC15 with Arizona crash reports detailing crossover crashes on two stretches of Interstate 10 from 2001 to 2014. ADOT also provided ABC15 with the crossover figures it’s collected in the past three years. Humphrey believes those reports show crossover crashes are common and dangerous.
Since 2001, within the 20-mile stretch (mileposts 160 to 180) where Humphrey’s family died, there were at least 64 crossover crashes that injured 74 and killed 20. In another 20-mile stretch near Picacho Peak, there were at least 81 crashes that injured 79 and killed 26. Given the volume of traffic on Interstate 10 and the time frame, ADOT believes those crashes are disparate and unpredictable.
“We have looked at that data and have not seen any clusters. These are extremely rare, unpredictable events,” Boschen said. When asked what would constitute a cluster, he said, “A cluster might be five that happened in a one-mile area in a year.”
To cable, the entire stretch of Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson would cost about $7.5 million. Contrast that against the two verdicts against the State totaling $51,000,000.
Humphrey said he never wanted this to go to trial. He said it was always about the cables. “Heck, at one point I offered to settle the whole thing for a mile of cable,” Humphrey said. “Just put in a mile of cable.”
Arizona administration officials didn’t even respond to a request for comment about Humphrey’s settlement offer.
Stiil, do date, ADOT officials just aren’t’ listening. Boschen says that ADOT has no plans to add median barriers any time soon. “Neither on this section or other interstates do we think that is the best option,” Boschen said.
(Right, Mr. Boschen. Just keep your head in the sand and hope it goes away. Smart engineering.)
But Mike Humphrey isn’t going away and has vowed to keep fighting in memory of his lost wife and sister. “Not being able to be with your loved one at the end is just devastating,” Humphrey said. “It didn’t have to happen. It’s just so soul-crushing knowing there’s something that could be done and she’d be with me.”