PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When two state troopers knocked on Lissett Sical’s door in the early morning hours of April 5, 2015, she rushed to her bedroom to get dressed.

“When they asked me what I was doing and I said I’m getting ready to go to the hospital to see my daughter, and they told me, ‘I’m sorry ma’am, she’s dead,'” Sical said. “It’s the worst pain that you can ever imagine. To this day I still feel the same pain. You don’t get rid of that pain, you just learn how to live with it, every single day.”

Sical’s 21-year-old daughter Tiffany and 23-year-old Brayan Rodriguez Solis were struck and killed by a wrong-way driver on Route 6 in Providence after a night out at the movies. The couple were set to be married that year.

Tiffany and Brayan’s five-year-old daughter, Jayleen, was sleeping over at her grandparents’ house the night of the crash.

“How do you tell a five-year-old that the mother and father died?” Sical said, adding they sought help from professionals for guidance. “When we told her, she didn’t understand. All she knew was that mommy and daddy went to heaven, and she wasn’t going to be able to see them anymore.”

Now 12 years old, Sical said Jayleen is still grappling with the enormous loss.

“It’s hard, there are days when all she wants to do is cry, and I want to do the same thing with her but I have to be strong for her,” Sical said. “If I didn’t have Jayleen, I don’t think I could survive something like this.”

Joel Norman, the driver of the car that killed Sical and Rodriguez Solis, had a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit, according to the R.I. Attorney General’s office. Inside the car police found a bag of cocaine.

At his sentencing, prosecutors said Sical was driving when Norman entered Route 6 the wrong way by getting on an off-ramp at Memorial Boulevard in Providence. Skid marks show Sical tried to avoid the crash, prosecutors said, while Norman did not.

Hours earlier, Norman had been barhopping in Providence where surveillance video showed him stumbling as he tried to leave an establishment shortly after 1 a.m.

He ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of driving under the influence, death resulting, two counts of driving to endanger, death resulting, and one count of possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, followed by three years of home confinement and a 10-year suspension of his driver’s license when he is released.

Sical said she takes issue when crashes like the one that claimed the life of her daughter are called “accidents.”

“That wasn’t a mistake. That was a decision,” she said. “He went out from his house or his apartment and made the decision of going out and drinking.”

“That day I lost everything,” she added. “I’m building my life back up but it’s hard and nothing is going be the same, never again.”

Wrong-Way Detection Systems

That same year, the R.I. Department of Transportation was embarking on an ambitious program to install dozens of wrong-way detection systems at off-ramps across the state’s highways.

The technology is designed to first alert the driver going the wrong way by triggering flashing electronic signs. A camera system also takes video of the vehicle and beams it back to RIDOT’s Traffic Management Center.

If the driver fails to turn around, a radar system further up the ramp detects the car that sounds an alarm in the center and sends out emails to officials. Workers in the center then notify state police to dispatch a cruiser.

Steven Pristawa, the state’s traffic safety engineer, said the 29 systems on the state’s 400 ramps detect wrong-way drivers about four to five times a month.

“These devices have helped,” Pristawa said. “When I see a wrong-way driver correcting – there is a good chance we just saved a life.”

Data from RIDOT shows in the seven years before the equipment was installed, there were 91 wrong-way drivers, with 34 crashes and 13 fatalities.

In the seven years since they were activated (from May 2015 to November 2022), there has been one crash and zero fatalities at ramps equipped with the system. At ramps without the detection technology, there have been five crashes and one fatality during that same time period.

Pristawa said they targeted ramps where data showed drivers were getting on the wrong way more frequently, including the one Norman used to access Route 6. They also redesigned some ramps to make them less confusing.

“People have been driving the wrong way for years for whatever reason – if it’s confusion or impairment,” Pristawa said. “We have had over 600 occurrences of people going the wrong way (since the systems were installed) and to date we’ve only had one operator on one of those ramps continue and cause a crash that, thank God, wasn’t fatal.”

Pristawa said the system is often triggered by false calls, sometimes picking up traffic from the other side of the ramp. But that’s where the camera system comes into play so human operators in the control center can quickly assess the situation.

The technology cost about $25,000 to install in 2015, but the price has since spiked to $75,000. Pristawa said the state uses federal highway safety improvement program money to cover the cost.

Pristawa said the Route 10 off-ramp to Route 2 in Cranston as well as the combined off ramp from I-95 North and I-195 West in Providence are the locations that trigger the systems most frequently.

Transportation officials expect to add one new detection systems near the state line at Exit 1 in Hopkinton this year. Another 11 ramps on Route 146 between Providence and North Smithfield are slated to come online by 2025, they said.

“If this can help them not go the wrong way on a ramp, we are happy about that. We want to save lives and reduce crashes,” Pristawa said. “And the numbers do bear that out.”

Sical said she is happy the wrong-way detection systems may be saving lives, but worries if someone is so drunk — like in the case of Joel Norman — that may not be enough to prevent a tragedy.

“If you are so intoxicated and you not making good decisions the system might not work,” said Sical. 

According to the R.I. Department of Corrections website, Norman is scheduled to be released from prison in September 2024, a sentence that has been reduced over time because of the state’s good behavior law.

For someone convicted of a first offense of drunk driving, death resulting, their potential sentence runs between five and 15 years in prison. A second offense runs between 10 and 20 years.

Sical said those penalties need to be much stiffer.

“Murder is when you take a gun and you shoot someone, but what is it when you take a car, and you are drunk and you go and hit someone?” Sical said. “To me it’s the same thing.”

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.