ODOT employee’s actions on U.S. 23 praised by police after he diverts wrong-way driver twice

George Seambos, an Ohio Department of Transportation employee, blocked northbound U.S. 23 at the Michigan border Jan. 26, forcing a wrong-way driver into the proper lanes.
George Seambos, an Ohio Department of Transportation employee, blocked northbound U.S. 23 at the Michigan border Jan. 26, forcing a wrong-way driver into the proper lanes.

An Ohio Department of Transportation snowplow driver from Toledo is being praised for diverting a wrong-way driver last weekend on U.S. 23 in Sylvania, then later spotting the allegedly drunk motorist on a Sylvania street and blocking the vehicle with his truck.

During the second encounter on Monroe Street at Alexis Road, Sylvania police said, plow driver George Seambos pulled up next to the wrong-way vehicle and observed what he considered a “confused” look on the driver’s face. He blocked the vehicle from proceeding after the light turned green and it didn’t move.

After stepping out and asking if the driver was OK, Mr. Seambos “could smell booze on his breath,” reached into the vehicle, and took the keys before calling 911 a second time, according to the report.

Police responding to the scene of the incident, which occurred shortly after 2 a.m. Jan. 26, arrested Dennis Zika, 65, of Sylvania after he failed field sobriety tests. He was arraigned two days later in Sylvania Municipal Court on charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and driving the wrong way on a one-way street, and is due back in court Monday.

ODOT Director Jerry Wray personally called Mr. Seambos this week to commend his actions, and the department is considering further recognition, department officials said Friday.

“Every day, ODOT employees do amazing things, but what George did for everyone on the road that night is beyond amazing,” Mr. Wray said in a statement. “We will never know if his actions avoided a tragedy on Ohio’s roads that night. But what we do know is George had the courage to do something you don’t see outlined in any policy manual. He used his gut instincts and quite possibly saved human lives as a result.”

“I feel good about myself knowing that no one was hurt that night, including the wrong-way driver,” Mr. Seambos said Friday in an email response to written questions from The Blade.

Mr. Seambos’ description to the newspaper of his first encounter with the wrong-way vehicle conflicted with the police report.

The police report said the wrong-way vehicle was northbound in the southbound lanes approaching the Michigan border when Mr. Seambos, who had been on snow and ice patrol on the northbound side, entered a median crossover just south of the state line and noticed its headlights.

Mr. Seambos pulled his truck across the southbound lanes with lights flashing, blocking the highway and prompting the wrong-way vehicle to turn around and return south, police said.

The plow driver told The Blade on Friday, however, that he had observed the wrong-way driver heading southbound, from Michigan, in the northbound lanes. When he turned his truck to block the northbound lanes, the wrong-way vehicle used the median crossover to enter the southbound lanes and continued south, he wrote.

Police officials were not available later Friday to reconcile the conflicting information.

Both accounts agree as to what happened next: Mr. Seambos followed the vehicle, which took the Monroe Street exit from southbound U.S. 23, then turned eastbound on Monroe. Mr. Seambos told The Blade he briefly lost sight of the vehicle, but recognized it when he got to the stoplight at Monroe and Alexis.

In his report, Sylvania police Officer Andrew Thompson described a “strong odor of an alcoholic beverage when he [Zika] spoke to me,” as well as “red, glassy eyes, slurred speech.”

The driver admitted to having driven the wrong way on U.S. 23 and that he had consumed “five beers” at the Brew House restaurant on Airport Highway in Springfield Township, according to the report. Zika was cited after later refusing a breath test at the Sylvania police station, police said.

Sylvania Police Chief William Rhodus said he and his officers appreciate anyone who helps remove impaired drivers from the roads, noting that such drivers cause many serious crashes — “especially wrong-way drivers.”

“If the actions of an individual assists law enforcement with removing an intoxicated driver, preventing a terrible, tragic accident from occurring, we greatly appreciate their assistance,” the chief said.

“Intoxicated wrong-way drivers have caused many serious accidents,” Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough agreed. “We all need to be vigilant watching for these dangerous situations. We recognize the ODOT driver for his actions, helping to prevent a tragic accident for Sylvania.”

Three Bowling Green State University sorority sisters were killed in March as they headed north toward Detroit Metropolitan Airport for spring break when their car crashed with a wrong-way driver on northbound I-75 in northern Wood County.

Impairment has been ruled out in that case, in which the wrong-way driver also was killed. But later that month, the Monroe men who died in a wrong-way collision on I-75 near downtown Toledo were determined to be heavily intoxicated.

Alcohol also was blamed for a head-on collision on Dec. 30, 2007, on I-280 in North Toledo that killed five members of a Maryland family headed home after visiting relatives in Detroit for Christmas.

Wrong-way driver Michael Gagnon of Adrian was found intoxicated by both alcohol and marijuana and was sentenced to 43 years in prison after his conviction six months later on five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of aggravated vehicular assault, the latter for injuries to two survivors in the other vehicle.

During a National Transportation Safety Board forum last fall on wrong-way driving, panelists said that while technology to thwart such behavior is being developed, the strongest precaution motorists can take to protect themselves is to avoid being in the left lane of a freeway at night, especially near curves or humps where sight lines are poor.

The vast majority of wrong-way crashes occur in the left lane because intoxicated or confused drivers instinctively keep to their right, experts say.

Staff writer Kelly McLendon contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.