Two men arrested in what could have been a disastrous road-rage shootout on Interstate 95 Sunday offered an insight into the psychology of aggression on the highway when each sought police to report the other’s actions, experts said.
No one was injured in the rolling gun battle that ended with four bullet holes in a Scion, including two in the car’s cabin, and included a volley of gunfire by the Scion’s driver, who shot across the passenger seat where a woman was sitting, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The fact both sought to report the other points to the extreme perspectives that can appear in a road-rage confrontation, said Dominik Guess , a University of North Florida associate professor of social and cognitive psychology.
“We don’t see the world how it is; we see the world through our own eyes,” said Guess, who studies decision-making as part of his research. Neither of the men probably believed they were wrong, he said.
Charles Richard Butler, 33, of St. Augustine, and Doyle W. Jungkurth, 61, of Jacksonville, were charged with two counts each of aggravated battery and discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle. They were released from the St. Johns County jail Monday on $7,500 bail.
“It just escalated into something that was very dangerous,” Highway Patrol Lt. Bill Leeper said. “Someone could have been seriously injured or killed.”
Both vehicles were traveling north on the interstate just before 5 p.m. when Butler’s Scion possibly cut off a Dodge Magnum driven by Jungkurth, Leeper said. Jungkurth, who was in the Dodge with a female passenger, was catching up to get the tag number when investigators believe Butler displayed a gun and fired three rounds at the other car. Jungkurth fired back, hitting the Scion, including one round that struck the driver’s seat and one in the rear seat area, Leeper said. The Magnum was not struck.
Leeper said Jungkurth then pulled into an I-95 rest stop in northern St. Johns County to report the shooting to a Highway Patrol trooper. About the same time, Butler was reaching St. Johns County dispatchers on 911, Leeper said. Butler pulled off the highway near Racetrack Road, Leeper said.
Both were arrested after a Highway Patrol investigation.
When emotions are charged they can overtake a person’s thinking, Guess said, and an aggressive act is more likely to incur an aggressive reaction.
Experts advise that drivers faced with aggression resort to calm.
“Don’t try to take it on yourself to show that person how stupid they were by doing something stupid yourself,” Leeper said. The best course is to safely access a cell phone then dial *FHP to connect to a dispatcher.
Leeper said aggressive driving is on the rise, but it may be difficult to determine if road-rage incidents are increasing because threats are often unreported. He said cases where both participants have weapons are rare.
“Generally it will be one person with a gun who will show it [to the other] to scare them,” he said.
In a sampling of confrontations reported by the Times-Union in the past year, victims reported facing knives and guns following interactions including lane changes, tailgating and sudden braking.
The cases can end violently. Three rounds were fired at a man and his 7-year-old daughter in St. Augustine in August during rush-hour traffic, the same month a Jacksonville man said a gun was put to his head after an angry driver followed him to a Bowden Road gas station. As he left, the suspect fired three shots at the victim.
The next month, a Green Cove Springs woman was hospitalized in critical condition after she was shot three times in an apparent road-rage shooting on Interstate 295.
In November 2005, a young mother died when she and a doctor engaged in a road-rage duel on Butler Boulevard. Kierra Shore lost control and swerved off the road then died after she was partially ejected.
Suggested ways to avoid confrontations encompass a variety of approaches.
A study published by social psychologists at Colorado State University last year concludes that drivers who display bumper stickers, no matter the cause, are marking territory and may be more likely to use their vehicles to express rage, said Jake Benfield, one of the researchers.
And last year, a state Department of Transportation project to erect cameras and digital signs along Jacksonville interstates was touted as having a benefit in curbing road rage. At the time, an official with the state told the Times-Union the signs would be used to warn of congestion and other conditions such as accidents that might slow traffic. The information might be used by motorists to avoid areas where tempers might flare.