Wrong-way crashes in Arizona: how one local family is coping with their loss

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) When KGUN9 met Elvia and John Ingargiola, it had been more than a year since their 26-year-old son Andrew was killed in a wrong-way crash.

"It's been devastating. You never expect to bury your child," Elvia said. "Never in a million years do you expect for that to happen."

The Ingargiola's say in March 2016 Andrew was driving home from a concert in Mesa when he was hit by driver who was traveling westbound in the eastbound lanes of I-10 near Avra Valley Road.

"It was like somebody literally kicked me in the stomach and I tried to get up and I couldn't," Elvia said. "I kept trying to get up and I couldn't fathom it. It wouldn't sink in."

Now the Ingargiola's want to know what state authorities are doing to curb wrong-way and impaired driving.

MORE: Increase in wrong-way drivers, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Twelve people have died this year in wrong-way crashes, according to statistics from the Arizona Department of Public Safety through September 11. That also includes 1,210 calls for service and 60 arrests related to wrong-way driving.

DPS officials clarify that the calls for service aren't necessarily verified wrong-way drivers, and are actually the incidents themselves. That means there may be 5 calls for service, but it is only counted as one incident.

Deputy Director of DPS Lieutenant Colonel Heston Silbert says impairment is the chief factor in wrong-way driving incidents.

"Our realization of how severe this problem is was really born through tragedy and we're doing everything we can to try to find responsive resolutions to the problem," Silbert said.

A report from ADOT shows there were 865 fatal crashes in Arizona in 2016, and 270 of them were alcohol-related. 

Crews with the Arizona Department of Transportation recently started installing a thermal detection system along a 15 mile stretch of I-17 in the Phoenix area.

DETAILS: Construction of wrong-way driving detection system starts along I-17.

"It's not just limited to the Phoenix area by any means," said Doug Nintzel, a spokesperson for ADOT. "We have wrong-way incidents happening around the state, but we want 
to start here with I-17 as a busy urban freeway to learn more about this technology."

As soon as the thermal cameras detect a vehicle going the wrong-way on a ramp a sign lights up. If the vehicle continues, ADOT and DPS are alerted. Drivers will get a warning through the overhead message boards along the freeway that there could be a wrong-way vehicle up ahead.

Troopers will dispatch to the area to try to bring the vehicle to a stop.

READ MORE: Thermal cameras spot wrong-way drivers on Loop 101 freeway.

Technology will help but it can't solve everything, Nintzel said, and they need the community to do their part.

 "We can't prevent all tragedies from happening and we need folks to really step up around the state to try to do what they can to take the keys away from someone who is an impaired driver," Nintzel said.

Meanwhile, the Ingargolia's say their son was 6'6" but was a big teddy bear. They say he went to Pima Community College and was going to the University of Arizona as an art major and loved being creative including sculpting and sketching. Andrew loved to have fun and make people laugh, they say.

They want to raise awareness and hope something good comes out of their loss. 

"It has to," John said. "It's part of our ability to survive and cope. We have to find a way to do something."

"I'm pushing and I won't stop because i want something good to come of this," Elvia said. "I don't want another family to suffer the way we've suffered."

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