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THP: Driver in wrong lanes of I-26 before crash

JIM WOZNIAK • Mar 28, 2007 at 10:42 AM

ERWIN - A real estate agent who was found dead March 19 in his sport utility vehicle in a creek between two interstate exits in Erwin was driving in the wrong lane before he left the road, the Tennessee Highway Patrol said Wednesday.

Authorities found Mark Keesecker, 35, 429 Love St., in his overturned Jeep, which ran off Interstate 26 just east of Exit 36, went airborne between two bridges, and landed on an embankment. The top of the SUV was in South Indian Creek.

The discovery came three days after Keesecker had last been seen driving east on I-26 in Johnson City. He reportedly had spent part of that night at Cafe One 11 in Johnson City and left shortly before midnight, authorities said. Keesecker missed many appointments and had not been in contact with family since that Friday. Keesecker worked for Century 21 in Johnson City.

According to THP Sgt. Paul Mooneyham, the agency has filed a preliminary report on the accident but is still investigating the matter. The THP's Critical Incident Response Team visited the accident site late last week, and Mooneyham and Trooper Tim Barnett, who are in training classes this week, plan to meet with that group about its findings.

One item the THP still needs is toxicology test results to determine Keesecker's physical condition, and the agency is still trying to pinpoint the exact time of the crash. But Mooneyham said one thing is clear.

"There's no question he was on the wrong side of the road," Mooneyham said, although the THP does not know why he was there.

Even though no one called in a report about a driver traveling in the wrong direction, the THP has concluded Keesecker was driving east in the westbound lane, Mooneyham said. He said the THP did not know why the vehicle left the road.

Mooneyham said he is unaware of any evidence to indicate Keesecker drove from the eastbound lane through the median into the westbound lane.

Instead, he said, it is more likely Keesecker would have entered the westbound lane by going the wrong way on the ramp from Exit 36.

Mooneyham said tire marks indicate the man was traveling in the passing lane when his SUV left the road, but the officer said he could not speculate how long Keesecker had been there. The Jeep went up a berm before going airborne. By the time the vehicle came to a stop, it had crossed the creek.

No autopsy was performed, but the injuries were consistent with a crash, Mooneyham said. He said Keesecker was not submerged in the water when authorities found him. Parts of the SUV had water inside.

Previous searches for Keesecker were unsuccessful, and Unicoi County Sheriff's Department Maj. Mike Hensley last week explained the problem.

"It was right in the center of the two bridges," he said. "It was in a kind of dark hole where it was very difficult to see. The helicopter that went up to search for him even missed it."

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