State Patrol reports increasing DUI arrests

LAKEWOOD, Wash. – One woman is dead and several more were injured in a violent car crash near Sumner Tuesday night.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputies say a Bonney Lake man could face charges for his role – detectives believe he was impaired during the crash.

It turns out, DUI's across Western Washington are on the rise in some areas.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner confirmed 65-year-old Margo Sabater died during the crash. Deputies say she was waiting to make a left turn on Sumner Tapps Highway and was hit from behind forcing her car into another lane striking another car. The crash killed the Sabater and sent several more people to the hospital. Deputies say it could have been worse.

“At this rate of speed and this type of collision, we’re lucky we don’t have three or four deceased,” said Detective Ed Troyer.

Last year, 540 people died in car crashes across Washington state. Officials at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission say approximately half of those were the fault of an impaired driver.

“I believe the biggest public safety issue that we have on our streets right now,” said Mark Medalen from the WTSC.

Since the beginning of 2019, the Washington State Patrol says district 8 made more than 100 DUI arrests. In Thurston and Pierce counties, troopers arrested nearly 200. In King County alone, 286 suspected dui drivers were arrested.  Plus, in district 7 more than 314 drivers were thrown in jail on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Through some parts of Western Washington, like WSP district 2 and 7, DUI arrests are on the rise year-to-year – approximately by ten percent.

“We need that culture change, we need that effect of your friends and families, to make sure that person isn’t able to get behind the wheel,” said Medalen.

So, what’s changing? Troopers and law enforcement officials say they’re finding more DUI drivers under the influence of multiple substances – not just alcohol. That means sometimes the intoxicating effects can be delayed – creating a deadly mix on the roads.

“Recreational drugs, prescription drugs, over the counter stuff, we’re seeing this effect,” said Medalen. “A little bit of cannabis, alcohol, that combination now increases the effects those substances have on people.

And while the Traffic Safety Commission admits most drivers are doing the right thing, dispite emphasis patrols and public service announcements, too many get behind the wheel while intoxicated. With more transportation options available via taxis or phone apps, officials say dui arrests and crashes are totally preventable.

“When we’re losing over 500 people on the roads, and half of those are impaired year after year, it’s going to take everybody to make sure those people don’t get behind the wheel,” said Medalen.

The Lakewood Police Department was the first in the state to train some its officers to draw blood from DUI suspects – it’s an effort to streamline the arrest process and get more officers back on the street quickly.

Now several neighboring departments in the South Sound have undergone similar training and several other agencies in Western Washington have told the Traffic Safety Commission they too are interested.