Wrong-way driver dies after crashing into semi

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Jill Galus and Gina Maravilla

Posted on February 10, 2014 at 6:28 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 12 at 1:21 PM

Map: I-17 and Anthem Way

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PHOENIX -- A man who was driving the wrong way on Interstate 17 died when his vehicle slammed head-on into a semi truck early Monday morning.

It happened just after midnight in the northbound lanes at the Anthem Way exit.

According to the Department of Public Safety, John F. Maxwell, 34, of Anthem, was driving a red Jeep four-door SUV south in the northbound lanes. That Jeep collided with a semi truck carrying produce.

The two people inside the truck's cab were not injured, escaping moments before the rig caught fire.

The impact was so severe that the Jeep was barely recognizable. Emergency crews had a difficult time extricating Maxwell from the mangled vehicle. Maxwell was pronounced dead on the scene.

DPS spokesman Bart Graves said incidents involving wrong-way drivers are more common than most might think.

"Most of the time -- and I'm not talking about this one -- they are impaired drivers that clearly don’t know where they are or what they're doing, which is extremely dangerous to everybody," he explained. "Sometimes they're just confused drivers that are not familiar with the area .... It happens a lot, in this metroplex especially."

But wrong-way driving is not a localized problem.

On Sunday, less than 24 hours before the I-17 crash, wrong-way wrecks in Tampa, Fla. and Pomona, Calif. killed a total of 11 people.

"Driving the wrong way on freeways has been a consistent traffic safety problem since the interstate system was opened in the 1950," reads the website for the 2013 National Wrong-Way Driving Summit.

According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, about 1 percent of traffic fatalities -- some 350 to 500 deaths per year nationwide -- are caused by wrong-way drivers.

No details about Maxwell were immediately available. At this point, it's not clear if he was impaired or simply confused.

Northbound I-17 between Daisy Mountain Drive and Anthem Way was closed for several hours.

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