Less than an hour after pulling over a drunken driver traveling south in the northbound lanes of Route 220 in the city early Sunday morning, two members of the county's DUI Task Force stopped a second intoxicated motorist who also was traveling in the wrong direction on a four-lane highway, this time on Interstate 180, again the city.
"Here we go again," William Solomon, the task force coordinator, told his riding partner for the night, city police Lt. Brett Williams, when the officers saw a woman drive her car up the Hepburn Street off-ramp of I-180 and onto the eastbound lanes as she traveled west.
"I was just praying to God that no one would get killed before we got her stopped," Solomon said.
"I feared I was going to see a massive fireball of a collision at any minute. With vehicles traveling at minimum speeds of 55 mph, no one is going to walk away from a head-on collision," he added.
Fortunately both impaired drivers were stopped before a catastrophe occurred, Solomon said.
"Tragedies were avoided as a result of actions taken by DUI task force roving patrols," said Solomon, who also is the chief of police in Old Lycoming Township.
The intoxicated driver pulled over on Route 220 just before 2 a.m. was a 25-year-old city man driving a Lincoln who admitted to police that he was coming from Mardi Gras activities in the city, Solomon said.
"Before we got him stopped, he passed three tractor-trailers, one of whom was forced to go along the berm in order to get out of the way," Solomon said.
"Just minutes after we got him stopped, a tour bus traveling north on Route 220 came through," Solomon said.
The driver he and Williams stopped on Interstate 180 about 2:40 a.m. was a 25-year-old Turbotville woman who told them that she has been "out at the clubs" in the city, said Solomon.
"We did what we had to do. We followed her up the exit ramp and tried to warn eastbound motorists of what was happening with our emergency lights and siren," Solomon said.
The officers had to pull alongside the woman's car and one of them had to use a flashlight to get her attention before they could get her stopped.
"Two cars had to pull out of the way to avoid colliding with her vehicle," Solomon said.
Although she denied being drunk, the woman showed the classic signs of being impaired, he said.
"She was swaying from side to side and she had a very strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on her breath," Solomon said. "On a preliminary breath test, she blew a 0.11."
The level of legal intoxication is 0.08.
The man driving the Lincoln the wrong way on Route 220 had a breath test result of 0.22, Solomon said.
The task force arrested a record 18 drunken drivers over the weekend, and a majority of the motorists told police they were coming from Mardi Gras events.
"What is it going to take? This is just insane. Williamsport is not New Orleans. I know the businesses downtown want to make money, and I support that. However, at what cost? I know some of the money goes to support charities. How much money can you put on a person's life?" Solomon asked.
Another drunken driver Solomon and Williams stopped early Sunday morning was a 31-year-old Bloomsburg man who sped through the parking lot of Wegmans on William Street, running two stop signs and striking a large advertising sign that was destroyed.
"When we got him stopped on the Hepburn Street on-ramp to I-180, he asked us why we stopped him. We told him because he struck a sign. He said 'What sign?' " Solomon said. The driver's preliminary alcohol test was 0.14, he said.
The driver in that case also admitted to coming from Mardi Gras events, Solomon said.
"Every year we go through this. It's not the businesspeople who have to pick up the pieces of lives shattered by the tragic consequences of drinking and driving. It's police officers, EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and firemen who have to do it," Solomon said.
"Why do we continue to promote an annual event that creates circumstances that only increases the chances of such tragedies?" Solomon said.