Channel 2 Investigates

What caused VP Pence’s Atlanta traffic snafu? Secret Service, police won’t explain

Three law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, are refusing to explain whose error caused a major traffic jam when Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in north Georgia two weeks ago.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher and WSB Triple Team Traffic Reporter Doug Turnbull have been asking questions, but getting very few answers about the incident during late Friday afternoon on Nov. 20th.

Presidents and vice presidents are usually cocooned in security and travel quickly on highways cleared in advance to guarantee that security. But when Pence was here last month, the system broke down potentially putting the VP in jeopardy and adding to the traffic miseries of countless metro area drivers.

But no one is publicly taking responsibility.

Turnbull has been working traffic for WSB Radio for 17 years.

“I’ve covered numerous presidential motorcades, and I’ve never heard of one taking a wrong ramp,” he said.

Turnbull was taking a break from his afternoon drive shift on Nov. 20th, when the VP flew into Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County and headed for rallies in Canton and Gainesville for GOP Senate candidates David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

Even though he was off the clock that day, Turnbull told Channel 2 Action News he was covered up in tips about the mess that ensued.

AJC Political Reporter Greg Bluestein was riding in the motorcade on the way back to metro Atlanta and ultimately to Dobbins, when his photographer realized someone leading the motorcade had made a pretty basic mistake.

“She (photographer Alyssa Pointed) said, we’re going east on 285 instead of west. Do they know they made a wrong turn?” Bluestein said.

As Bluestein describes it, the motorcade was heading south on I-85 and had to bear right to get onto I-285. The perimeter westbound toward Cobb County and eventually Dobbins ARB was secured and clear.

Instead, the motorcade got off 85 and bore left which put it onto I-285 east toward Tucker and eventually I-20. That part of I-285 was neither clear nor secure.

Because none of the law enforcement agencies involved (Cobb PD, the Georgia State Patrol and the U.S. Secret Service) is talking, it’s not entirely clear where the motorcade had to turn around.

Turnbull speculates that the motorcade got as far as Northlake Parkway or even Lavista Road before it left I-285, crossed the bridge and got back onto I-285 for the long slog back to that part of I-285 (west of I-85) that had been cleared.

It was a nightmare of Friday afternoon traffic, according to Bluestein.

“We got stuck in the teeth of rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon right before a holiday,” he said.

Bluestein said members of the Pence advance team were embarrassed and figured someone was in trouble.

“One of them kind of jokes that heads were about to roll, but they keep these thing so secret that it’s hard to see where this mistake happened,” Bluestein told Belcher.

Turnbull said he called all three agencies, and got basically nothing for his effort.

“To make a mistake that causes Atlanta commuters another 30 minutes of a complete closure, not to mention the back-ups afterwards, and nobody wanted to own it or apologize,” he said.

That remains the case. Cobb police didn’t respond to Channel 2′s inquiry. The Georgia State Patrol referred us to the Secret Service. And the Secret Service didn’t respond either.

“Although it was embarrassing, we’re only talking about it right now as an embarrassment, not as something worse,” Bluestein said.

Pence is expected to return to Atlanta on Friday for a visit to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention before heading to Savannah for Loeffler and Perdue rallies.