It was a midnight freeway nightmare that startled California Highway Patrol officers: A driver speeding southbound on Highway 101 - in the northbound lanes.
In an incident one officer called "scary stuff," it was just a matter of good luck that no one was hurt as a careening wrong-way driver in a white Toyota Camry forced northbound motorists to hit their brakes and veer sideways south of the Marin-Sonoma county line about 12:10 a.m. Friday.
Moments later, the wrong-way car slowed, allowing an officer to leap over a freeway barrier, open the passenger door and grab the keys while noting a half-empty bottle of vodka in plain view. A San Francisco woman was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, among other violations.
"This person almost collided with dozens of cars last night in addition to a CHP vehicle with every single light on it flashing," said patrol spokesman Andrew Barclay. "Wrong way drivers who are extremely intoxicated believe they are traveling in the slow lane on the correct side of the road when in reality they are traveling in the fast lane on the wrong side."
Based on phone calls from alarmed motorists, officers believe she had been in the wrong lane for about three miles, but authorities had no idea whether she entered the freeway at Kastania Road or Petaluma Boulevard South, or elsewhere.
"She didn't know either," Barclay said.
Barclay said the story unfolded shortly after midnight when calls came in about a wrong-way driver near the county line. A patrol car traveling northbound near the Redwood Landfill activated emergency lights and began a traffic break to slow traffic approaching the wrong way driver.
A moment later, northbound vehicles ahead of the officers began slamming on their brakes and veering to the right as the Toyota Camry barreled toward them at 50 mph, weaving southbound between the northbound center divider and the northbound fast lane.
"The driver of the CHP unit positioned the patrol vehicle with fully activated emergency lights directly in front of the wrong way vehicle in an attempt to stop it," Barclay reported. "The driver of the Toyota veered to the right, now fully driving in the center divider, and drove around the patrol vehicle almost striking it."
CHP officers made a U-turn at San Antonio Road, traveling in the southbound lanes paralleling the wrong-way Toyota, with their lights flashing, siren blaring and spotlight focused on the car. Officers farther south stopped northbound traffic.
Finally, the wrong-way driver slowed down to about 5 mph.
"The officers paralleling the Toyota continued for approximately a half mile next to the Toyota before it slowed enough that they were able to exit their vehicle, jump over the center divider, and enter the unlocked passenger door where they turned the vehicle off and removed the keys," Barclay noted.
Sofia Bridgette Kalaveras of San Francisco, 46, was assisted into a CHP vehicle and booked into Marin County Jail on suspicion of drunken driving, driving on the wrong side of the highway, and driving with an open alcoholic beverage container in the vehicle.
She was held in lieu of $2,652 bail.
©2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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