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Police investigate fatal wrong way crash near Phoenix interchange

(courtesy: ODOT)

PHOENIX, Ore. - Police are investigating the cause of a fatal crash on I-5 in Phoenix that happened over the weekend.

It's the first major crash since the new diverging diamond interchange opened up last year.

"The big factor is the human factor that a lot of the times we can't account for," said Gary Leaming, the Oregon Department of Transportation PIO.

ODOT and Oregon State Police are looking into Saturday night's fatal crash.

It happened at around 10p.m. when 81-year-old Medford man Ellis Feinstein entered I-5 northbound in the wrong direction and collided head on with a semi-truck near the Phoenix diverging diamond interchange.

"Certainly our condolences to the family but while it's still under investigation, we really don't feel the interchange type had anything to do with it," said Leaming.

It's been about a year since the new interchange was introduced as the first one of its kind in the west coast.

And although it's brought some skepticism from the community, police back its design.

"It's just a much simpler design than the old design where you go up to a stoplight, if you turn right you get on the wrong way, if you get on the left you get on the right way. This one you're basically going straight," said Derek Bowker, the Phoenix Police Chief.

This year four crashes have been reported near the interchange, down seven from the year prior with the old design.

And although the investigation is ongoing both OSP and Phoenix Police believe the wrong way turn is a hard mistake to make.

"Basically if you're headed into Phoenix you'd have to make a U-turn to get onto that off ramp," said Chief Bowker.

Which begs the question as to the other variables that may have contributed to the accident.

"That's the unknown question in this incident is what was the man’s state of mind, where did he get on, how did he make his decisions," said Leaming.

Despite sign and interchange design improvements ODOT says wrong way driving accidents happen.

There's about one fatality a day across the nation from them.

However, they say the diverging diamond interchange is designed to minimize those risks with 14 points of conflict as oppose to 26 that standard interchanges have.

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