Tipsy drivers targeted in State Patrol crackdown

Mobile unit helps law enforcement in annual event

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

Did you know?

You can ride in a limo every weekend all year for what a DUI costs you.

• Attorney: $500-$15,000.n Fines and court fees: $823-$8,125.

• Electronic home monitoring: $150-$2,250.

• Installation of ignition interlock device: $730-$2,800.

• Treatment: $10,000+.

• Towing: $150-$300.

It's 8 p.m. Friday, and Trooper Shane Madsen is gathering everything he needs to operate the Washington State Patrol's Mobile Impaired Driving Unit. A list of area taxis and attorneys. Processing paperwork. And Rockstar energy drinks -- two cases.

The WSP's MIDU is a 38-foot converted Winnebago motorhome with three DataMaster alcohol breath testers, computers for typing reports and two small holding cells. Late at night, with its red and blue lights flashing, the motorhome looks somewhat like an oversized patrol car.

On this night, it's camped out in the parking lot of the District 5 headquarters for the 22nd annual Night of 1,000 Stars, a night of DUI emphasis patrol. While the State Patrol is the lead agency, other area agencies join in to crack down on impaired drivers.

The event is coordinated by Marion Swendsen, Clark County Target Zero manager with the sheriff's office. Target Zero is a traffic program that aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injures by 2030.

She says more than 50 percent of traffic fatalities this year involved impaired driving.

Three WSP officers are stationed in the unit, where they wait patiently for their first

DUI suspect. By stationing officers in the Winnebago, those patrolling the roads can drop off their suspects and get back on the road. It's like an assembly line for processing drunk drivers.

It takes a while for the first suspect to come through the unit. Luckily, there's some light reading on hand: "Gariott's Medicolegal Aspects of Alcohol."

I look at the title of the texbook and ask, why is it so difficult to drive when you've been drinking?

Alcohol slows the body down, making it difficult to multitask or react to what's happening on the road, Madsen explains. Someone who's been drinking will also lose their peripheral vision; they might plow down a pedestrian and not even notice.

A pair of impairment goggles proves what they're saying. Wearing them is equal to experiencing a .14 BAC, the average level in DUI cases. Walking a straight line heel to toe and balancing on one leg is practically impossible.

"It's amazing how many people under the influence can't recite the alphabet," Sgt. Mark Crandall says.

He says most drunks are easy to spot.

"We balance DUI against everyone else we come in contact with," Crandall says. "It just comes from experiencing life."

Sgt. J. P. McAuliffe chews on some Twizzlers while cleaning off a booking card. Suspects hold the card, with their name and date of birth written on it, for a photo.

McAuliffe coordinates where the motorhome goes around the state; he's essentially its tour manager. Typically, the unit makes about 25 stops per year, going to major events where troopers suspect will have a lot of activity and drinking.

The officers, however, have no idea a brewfest is going on in downtown Vancouver.

It must be a busy night.

The first DUI suspect comes in around 9:40 p.m. Deputy Chris Luque of the Clark County Sheriff's Office found the man at Prairie View Apartments on Northeast 99th Street. The man ran into another car while trying to park.

Madsen reads the man his implied consent, waiting 15 minutes to take the breath test. The man might have alcohol on his mouth, which would make the machine spew out a higher reading than what his true BAC would be.

The machine tests its own solution of water and alcohol to calibrate itself. The whole process of testing the man's BAC and writing all of the paperwork should take about 30 minutes.

Madsen, Crandall and McAulifee said they usually stay in the MIDU till about 3 a.m., processing the people who come through and getting them rides home.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;patty.hastings@columbian.com.