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Gallatin County seeing an alarming trend of wrong-way drivers

According to Montana Highway Patrol Sergeant Jay Nelson, the last thing any motoring public thinks about driving down the Interstate is somebody coming the wrong way, and that consequence can be deadly.

"We've tragically lost the life of one individual, and that potential is there each and every time one of these calls comes out," Nelson said.

Nelson reported they are seeing the incidents in Gallatin County, including a fatal accident on January 4 that claimed the life of Laysa Grewell and other areas of the state on Interstate 90, including quite a few in the Missoula area.

Nelson said when they receive a call, there is also a big concern for first responders.

"Every time we get these calls, we take them extremely serious trying to get troopers in a position to be able to intercept these vehicles. We also have several different things that hinder us with that. We would have to try and go into the wrong lane of travel to intercept or warn them, and that can be extremely dangerous for first responders," he said.

For Nelson, this is an issue he said is becoming far too regular.

"We've lost a life out of this, and each and every one of these calls that comes in makes you definitely concerned because it could end tragically again," he said.

Within the past several months, wrong-way drivers have caused a great deal of concern for area residents traveling on Interstate 90.

The alarming recent string of wrong-way incidents started in late November when Andres Mejia-Ocampo was arrested and later charged with 37 counts of criminal endangerment, driving under the influence, and unauthorized use of a vehicle after driving the wrong way on Interstate 90 between Belgrade and Bozeman.

In early December, Jose Paul Yanez Almeida was arrested for allegedly driving westbound in the eastbound lanes of I-90 in Bozeman.

A head-on collision caused by a wrong-way driver took the life of 22-year-old Laysa Grewell on January 4 at mile marker 278 near Three Forks.

In early February, Amilcar Ajsivinac Queche was arrested for allegedly driving in the wrong direction near Manhattan and charged with four counts of criminal endangerment, driving without a valid license, proof of insurance, and unlawful possession of an open alcoholic beverage.

Mejia-Ocampo and Queche are currently incarcerated at the Gallatin County Jail in Bozeman, and each has an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Hold.

The Broadwater County Sheriff's Office has also recently dealt with wrong-way drivers.

"We have arrested two driving under the influence drivers who attempted to get on the Interstate the wrong way. Luckily, we were at the right spot at the right time to catch them before anything tragic happened," Sheriff Nick Rauser said.

According to Rauser, Broadwater County only has a short portion of Interstate 90, but when someone gets on the wrong way in another county, they usually get a call about the driver.

"I would say there has been an increase in these incidents in the last couple of years. I'm not sure why he is happening, however," he said.

According to an article from KBZK, the Montana Department of Transportation has ordered nine new wrong-way signs with radar and flashing lights that will arrive in the next few months to be placed at I-90 and 287 at Wheat Montana, Manhattan, Amsterdam, and Belgrade.

Rauser feels the new signage is a step in the right direction to remedy the issue.

He said that talking to the MDT, he is impressed they can get the ball rolling on the issue promptly.

"Usually, these things take years to get done. I don't know if there is a right answer to the problem. I do think the new signage is a right step and hopefully that helps. If it doesn't, at least we can say that we tried and that and it didn't work and work towards a different plan," Rauser said.