Troopers face split-second decisions in face of wrong-way drivers

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DPS troopers Casey Cernak (left) and Jeremy Barr.  (Source: KPHO/KTVK/DPS) DPS troopers Casey Cernak (left) and Jeremy Barr. (Source: KPHO/KTVK/DPS)
Arizona Dept. of Public Safety Trooper Casey Cernak. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Arizona Dept. of Public Safety Trooper Casey Cernak. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Arizona Dept. of Public Safety Trooper Jeremy Barr. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Arizona Dept. of Public Safety Trooper Jeremy Barr. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Crash scene on I-17 south of Codes Junction. (Source: Arizona Dept. of Public Safety) Crash scene on I-17 south of Codes Junction. (Source: Arizona Dept. of Public Safety)
Booking photo of Timothy Dwayne Harjo, 48, of Wickenburg. (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) Booking photo of Timothy Dwayne Harjo, 48, of Wickenburg. (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

A trooper’s split-second decision in stopping a wrong-way driver was made on the fly as a wrong-way motorist came barreling at him at 70 mph.

One of Jeremy Barr’s co-workers wonders if he could have made the same instant decision to smash into the oncoming vehicle to force it off the roadway to ultimately save lives.

DPS Trooper Casey Cernak puts his life on the line every day but he'll be the first to tell you what his fellow officer did to stop a wrong-way driver over the weekend was pretty amazing.

 "I thought it was extremely brave and courageous for him to do what he did,” Cernak said. “Not every officer would have done what he did."

[READ: DPS: AZ state trooper 'puts his life on the line' in wrong-way crash]

Arizona's Department of Public Safety doesn't really have any protocol or strict policy when it comes to wrong-way drivers. It’s up to troopers to make critical decisions.

“It gets pretty hairy and dicey out here on the freeways but that's what I signed up for," Cernak said.

Authorities said. the man behind the wheel of his pick-up truck early Saturday morning was impaired.and traveling north in the southbound lanes of Interstate 17, about 12-miles north of Sunset Point.

Barr was coming from the other direction. He did a traffic break to slow down traffic and then plowed into the truck. forcing it off the road in a move that put the trooper’s life in danger.               

"Had he not done this there's no doubt in my mind that somebody's wife, somebody's brother, somebody's sister would have been killed by this wrong-way driver," DPS Director Col. Frank Milstead said.

A trooper’s biggest challenge with wrong-way drivers is their unpredictability and erratic behavior, making it more difficult to slow them down, Cernak said.      

Often times, it’s up to troopers, like Barr, to use their training and gut instinct, even if it means putting their own lives at risk.

"Many times we don’t choose to put our lives in danger when a suspect is coming at us or pursuit or somebody has gun to our face,” Cernak said. “We didn’t choose for that to happen but he actually chose to hit the vehicle and did what he did."

Barr is back home after spending some time at the hospital for some back issues. He should be fine.

[READ: DPS identifies wrong-way driver stopped by trooper]

The driver of the pickup was identified as Timothy Dwayne Harjo, 48, of Wickenburg. He suffered a minor injury.

Troopers arrested Harjo as soon as he was released from a Phoenix hospital and booked him on suspicion of aggravated assault, endangerment and driving under the influence.

Copyright 2015 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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