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Suspected wrong-way driver: TPD has wrong driver

Posted at 1:34 PM, Mar 21, 2016

In an exclusive interview with ABC Action News, accused wrong-way driver Aja Cancela says Tampa Police wrongly accused her and arrested the wrong woman Sunday morning.

"I am fighting this," said Cancela.  "I want an apology, 100 percent."

Cancela, 34, spoke exclusively to ABC Action News in a tearful interview Monday morning.

"I was not on that interstate," she explained.

According to the mother of three, she was driving westbound on Busch Boulevard coming from Nebraska Avenue when she approached the red light right before the I-275 on ramp.

She says she forgot something at her boyfriend's home and needed to turn around and go back eastbound on Busch Boulevard.  Her boyfriend was in the passenger seat at the time.

Cancela told ABC Action News she proceeded to make a U-turn and drove over a small median at the entrance to the Busch Boulevrd north on-ramp to do so.  That is when a police officer pulled her over.

She says she admitted she should not have made the U-turn but was unaware she was being stopped for allegedly driving the wrong-way.

"That is not me at all," Cancela added while watching the recently released video of the alleged wrong-way driver.

Tampa Police say different.

TPD RELEASES WRONG-WAY DRIVER VIDEO

Video showing a Tampa police officer taking evasive action to avoid a head-on collision with a wrong-way driver on Interstate 275 at Fowler Avenue early Sunday has been released.

In the video, you hear the officer say over the radio, "It is a her."

Shortly after 5 a.m. Sunday, Tampa police officer S. Van Treese, who is a member of the police department's DUI unit, was traveling northbound on I-275 on his way home at the end of his shift.

As he approached Fowler Avenue, the officer spotted a southbound vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed, heading directly toward his cruiser, a Tampa Police Department news release states.

Van Treese took evasive action narrowly missing colliding with the vehicle driven by the wrong-way driver.

A second Tampa police officer, Gregory Murphy, saw the wrong-way vehicle, a 2010 gray Honda, exit the interstate in the wrong direction at Busch Boulevard. Murphy pursued the vehicle and made a traffic stop.

Murphy saw signs the driver may have been impaired, the release states. A DUI unit was called to the scene to conduct a field sobriety test.

The driver, identified Cancela, 34, of Riverview, was arrested and taken to central breath testing at the Hillsborough County Jail.

Her breathalyzer result was .063, which is under the legal limit. 

Cancela says she was asked to touch her nose with her right index finger at least 10 times.  She said she was successful in all of them but insists officers saying her hand moved toward her eye once.

She faces a charge of driving under the influence.

No injuries were reported.

Cancela's boyfriend is backing up her version of events.

CANCELA DISPUTES POLICE VIDEO

According to Cancela, the car in the released video does not match her car.

She says her gray Honda is a hatchback and has three different types of headlights, including LED lights that are blue.

"The lights in the video are one color and they are very bright," Cancela explained while demonstrating how her lights worked while our news cameras rolled.

911 CALLER: "DRIVER IS A MAN"

A man driving to the airport called 911 to report the wrong-way driver.

Throughout the audio, the man refers to the wrong-way driver as "he" and "him."

The witness also described the wrong-way driver's car as being a charcoal grey Nissan, possibly an Altima.

When ABC Action News brought this to the attention of TPD, spokesperson Andrea Davis said the caller didn't know the sex the person was because he was in the correct lane of travel on the other side, going the same direction.

Davis believes the caller only used the word "he" as a blanket pronoun.

FDOT SPENDS $1.2 MILLION ON WRONG-WAY SIGNAGE

More than a million taxpayer dollars were spent by the Florida Department of Transportation over the past year to install flashing beacons, wrong-way signs and pavement markings at 16 Tampa interstate ramps.

The pilot program was launched in February.

The initiative started following a string of wrong-way crashes in 2014 that claimed the lives of 16 people.

"Almost 100 percent of these drivers that are causing these crashes and being arrested are alcohol or drug related," explained FDOT Spokesperson Kris Carson.  "So it is really difficult for DOT, we are engineering, we are creating solutions, we are spending over a million dollars, we have to ask the public to act responsibly and stop drinking and driving."

The wrong-way flashing beacons cost $50,000 a pair.  They're activated by radar when a wrong-way driver enters a ramp the wrong-way.  FHP is also immediately notified and a trooper dispatched.

A picture of the vehicle is also taken.

FDOT officials have launched the program in other areas of the state and say it is making a difference.

"In our Turnpike office in south Florida, we believe they are making a difference.  There have been over 20 instances where a car has gone up the ramp the wrong way, a trooper has been dispatched, when he gets there their is no crash.  They have scene evidence of pictures of a car going up the ramp the wrong way and then turning around and correcting itself," Carson added.

FDOT: SPIKE STRIPS WON'T WORK

According to Carson, FDOT receives numerous emails and phone calls asking about the installation of spike strips.

"Spike strips are meant for parking lots or parking garages.  They are not meant for cars where they go over five miles per hour," Carson explained.

Carson points to national testing to back up why FDOT will not install spike strips.

"Even cars that are going down the ramps the correct way, they will break, and they will damage vehicles going the correct way," Carson added.

Carson says national testing also shows tire spikes do not deflate the tire quick enough.

"So if we did put them on the exit ramps, the vehicle will still be able to get on to the interstate," Carson said.

To hear Cancela's exclusive interview, tune into ABC Action News at 5:30 p.m.