SEATTLE — It was a tragedy waiting to happen unless they could stop it.
Washington State Patrol troopers tried their sirens, spotlights and even the PA systems on their patrol cars, but nothing seemed to capture the attention of the driver who was careening north on Interstate 5 in the wrong direction early Wednesday morning.
One trooper raced alongside the car, on the northbound lanes of the freeway, trying to alert the driver that she was heading toward potential disaster. Others tried to deploy spike strips, but were initially unsuccessful “because the driver was all over the place, using all the lanes,” said Trooper Guy Gill.
Cars in the southbound lanes flashed their high beams at the oncoming car, trying to warn the driver. Some narrowly avoided head-on collisions.
Finally, after the wrong-way driver covered nearly 18 miles at speeds up to 100 mph, troopers were able to stop the white Lincoln LS by using spike strips to flatten the tires.
By then, the driver, identified as Pamela Drawsby, 60, of Olympia, had traveled from Tumwater, Wash., to the freeway exit near the main gate at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Drawsby was arrested and booked into Pierce County Jail. She was charged later in the day in Thurston County District Court with driving under the influence.
Gill, a State Patrol spokesman, said the nerve-shattering ride began shortly before 2 a.m. with reports of a white passenger car blocking an intersection in Tumwater.
A few minutes later, police began getting the first of what would be a slew of 911 calls reporting a white car heading north in the southbound lanes of I-5.
“When we get a call like that, obviously troopers are heading that way quickly,” Gill said.
Troopers located the Lincoln but were unable to get the driver to stop, he said.
During the wild ride, Drawsby's car was clocked at speeds that varied from 30 mph to over 100 mph, Gill said.
Troopers began closing down the freeway in Tacoma, “just in case it got that far.”
Truck driver Rick Ingraham was driving south on I-5 when he noticed a flurry of drivers flashing their brights at him. It was either an accident or a cop with radar, he thought, so he slowed down and moved over.
Seconds later, the Lincoln “zoomed right by,” he said. “It's over fast, but your heart is still pounding.”
He said it was “amazing” and “probably a miracle” there were no injuries.
Despite other “extremely close calls,” Gill said, the driver made it from milepost 102 to 120 without injury or accident.
Gill said troopers cautiously approached the Lincoln because they “had no idea what they were going to get,” he said.
Drunk and confused
What they found, he said, was an intoxicated and confused woman who had “no idea what was going on.”
Drawsby could face additional charges of reckless endangerment, according to Gill. He said Drawsby had no prior criminal convictions.
A man who answered the phone at Drawsby's home Wednesday evening said he didn't want to talk about the incident.
“I don't feel like it,” he said.
Gill said Drawsby likely doesn't feel fortunate, “but it could have been so much worse. It's actually amazing it wasn't.”