Wrong-way driver arrested after crashing into car on I-75

The Florida Highway Patrol arrested a man Saturday night after they say he was driving the wrong way on I-75.

Troopers say 21-year-old Zachary Christian was behind the wheel. They say he clipped the side of a car before they caught up to him. The arrest report notes he couldn’t remember he had been in a crash and that his blood alcohol level was .187.

Chris O’Kelly is the man officers says Christian crashed into. He was coming back from visiting his mom out-of-state. 

"I was thinking I'm home free, I'm on the homestretch,” said O’Kelly. He was not far from his Pinellas Park home - on I-75 near the San Antonio exits. 

But around mile marker 281, O'Kelly saw bright lights shining at him. At first he thought it was construction.

"From that moment I'm not really sure what happened other then I realized they were headlights almost in front of me and they looked like they were coming at me,” said O’Kelly.

O'Kelly was able to swerve just in time, and missed a head-on impact.

"It just looks like it destroyed the front end, the front quarter yet I was unharmed so I'm really thankful for that,” said O’Kelly. But his 1990 2-door lotus, "Just like every time I take it out looks bad luck. But I do love it."

O'Kelly says he has spent years restoring every inch of the car. He says the first time he took it out for a spin, a woman ran a stop sign and hit him.

After he spent $20,000 to repair it, he decided a trip to see his ill mother was the perfect time to take it out again. He is not sure how much new repairs are going to cost but says it doesn't matter.

"I'm so thankful to be unharmed that it's just you know material goods can be replaced,” said O'Kelly.

Christian was was booked into jail on two misdemeanor DUI charges. 

Since 2014, FDOT installed new wrong-way signs, reflective arrows, and painted interstate shields at more than 150 interstate exits throughout most of the Bay Area.

Some of the wrong-way signs are electronic and flash red lights if they sense a wrong-way driver. FHP says when the lights flash, 99% of drivers realize their mistake and turn around before entering the interstate in the wrong direction.

In the event a driver does pass one of the electronic signs, some are equipped with cameras that will immediately alert traffic and transportation officials and FHP troopers in real time. Authorities are dispatched to the area and FDOT's overhead interstate signs update to alert other drivers of the situation.

On the interstates and toll roads in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, there were seven wrong-way crashes in 2014, two in 2015, six in 2016, and six so far this year. Those numbers don't include the hundreds of wrong-way crashes in other Tampa Bay area counties or wrong-way incidents on city streets and highways. 

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