Troopers say man who caused fatal wrong-way crash on I-85 had dementia

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — One person died in a wrong-way crash during rush hour on Interstate 85 on Thursday evening in Gaston County, troopers said.

Officials said an elderly man was driving a gray Nissan Xterra north in the southbound lanes and collided head-on with a Ford Fiesta near Exit 12.

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The elderly man, identified as 70-year-old Terry Ellenburg, was taken to the hospital with minor injuries, while the driver of the other car, 57-year-old David Young, of Spartanburg, South Carolina, died.

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Troopers said there was little Young could do to avoid crashing.

"Closing speed just doesn't give you a lot of time,” Trooper Ray Pierce said. “On the interstate, you don't have a lot of avenues for escape."

Pierce said Gaston Emergency Medical Services had to treat at least two other patients, including one with life-threatening injuries.

Investigators said Ellenburg was from Forest City and suffers from dementia. Family members had contacted Forest City police earlier in the afternoon in reference to his condition.

Ellenburg’s children called police when they realized his keys and the car were missing.

He was spotted at Walmart in Forest City but left before police arrived.

"This isn't your typical wrong-way driver,” Pierce said.

Drivers in Shelby, almost 20 miles from the crash site, noticed the SUV traveling the wrong way on a back street and called 911.

"Fortunately for them, no collision occurred then,” Pierce said.

Ellenburg then took a wrong turn onto I-85 near Exit 8 in Kings Mountain and drove about 4 miles before the fatal wreck occurred.

"There is a car going the wrong way on 85. He is going north on southbound I-85,” a caller told a dispatcher.

A portion of the interstate was closed for more than an hour as a result of the accident.

The district attorney is deciding if Ellenburg will be charged for causing someone’s death.

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