Police: Man arrested in wrong-way accident knew he was drunk

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PHOENIX (AP) — A 39-year-old Phoenix man arrested in a wrong-way freeway accident in which a fire department dispatcher was fatally injured had a blood-alcohol level nearly four times the legal limit, authorities said Wednesday.

Stephen B. Martin told police and hospital personnel after the early-morning accident Tuesday that he knew he was drunk and shouldn't have been driving but that he had to get his girlfriend because she was being sexually assaulted, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said in a court document.

DPS spokesman Raul Garcia said the case remained under investigation and that he had no information on Martin's statement about his girlfriend.

Megan Lange, a 26-year-old married mother of two who'd recently returned to work after coming off maternity leave, was fatally injured when her small SUV collided head-on with a Martin's large SUV.

Lange was going home after finishing her shift when the accident occurred about 1 a.m. on Interstate 17. Another motorist whose vehicle was sideswiped by Martin's SUV suffered minor injuries.

According to the DPS statement, a woman who was a passenger in Martin's SUV said she told Martin they were going the wrong way on Interstate 17 but that they couldn't find a place to turn around.

DPS said Martin had a blood alcohol level of 0.313. The legal limit for driving is 0.08.

"He was absolutely blottoed at the time he was driving on I-17," Deputy Maricopa County Attorney George S. Keleman Jr. said during a brief court hearing.

Defense attorney Vicki Lopez said the case stemmed from an "unintentional act" during which Martin believed the person who had attacked his girlfriend was chasing them.

Keleman dismissed Martin's account and said the thing to do, particularly for a person who admittedly is too drunk to drive, is to call police.

"No one is Superman. No one is Batman," Keleman said.

Martin remained jailed in lieu of $700,000 bond after being arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder and other crimes.

Tuesday's accident was the latest in a rash of wrong-way accidents on Phoenix-area freeways.

A wrong-way driver and an off-duty Mesa police officer were killed in a May 12 wreck, and two people were killed May 18 when their car collided with a pickup going the wrong way.

Three people were killed May 16 on I-17 about 30 miles north of Phoenix when their minivan collided with a car going the wrong way.

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