WSP holiday patrols stress safe arrivals

Goal is no fatalities on entire I-5 corridor on Thanksgiving weekend

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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State police in Washington, Oregon and California on Monday launched an enforcement campaign aimed at making sure everyone hitting the road for Thanksgiving reaches their destination.

The goal: No fatalities on Interstate 5 — all of it — during the holiday weekend.

Officers will step up patrols along the entire freeway corridor stretching more than 1,300 miles from Canada to Mexico. Top cops from all three West Coast states emphasized speeding, impaired driving and not wearing seat belts as the major causes of deadly crashes during a joint appearance Monday in Vancouver.

Troopers will be out in force during the holiday weekend from 6 p.m. Wednesday through 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Thanksgiving weekend is typically one of the busiest travel times of the year on U.S. highways.

"We want you to have a safe holiday season, and we want our troopers to have a safe holiday season," said Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste.

Officials offered a four-part message: slow down, be patient, drive sober and buckle up.

Batiste joined his California counterpart, California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joseph Farrow, in taking that message to Clark County drivers during a round of patrols Monday. With Batiste behind the wheel, the two parked along a freeway onramp near Ridgefield and waited for a speeding driver.

They didn't wait long.

Within a few minutes, a WSP unit flying overhead in a small plane spotted a silver Toyota Camry going 80 mph. As soon as the car whizzed by, Batiste stepped on the gas.

It turned out that the woman behind the wheel was traveling with two dogs in the car. She'd become distracted and lost track of her speed.

Batiste gave the woman a warning and wished her a happy Thanksgiving.

"It's not about getting out here and writing as many tickets as possible," Batiste said. "Whether I'm going to cite them or not, my goal is to educate them."

The next driver Batiste pulled over, a man driving a red SUV, wasn't so lucky. He was caught doing 84 mph, and knew it when Batiste approached his window. The man left with a $144 ticket.

"He definitely knew he was speeding," Batiste said. "It was his intent to speed."

The driver also left with a story to tell: He told another officer involved in the stop that he was honored to be pulled over by the chief of Washington State Patrol.

During the Thanksgiving weekend, Washington has seen one fatal crash on I-5 each of the past two years. Oregon roads saw two fatal wrecks during the holiday in 2012 and three in 2011, but only one of those occurred on I-5, said Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings. California has gone the last two years without a fatality on I-5 during the Thanksgiving holiday, Farrow said.

"We want to make this three years in a row," he said.

It appears not everyone had gotten the safety message by Monday. Shortly after the morning event, WSP troopers saw two cars racing each other on I-5, reaching speeds of 117 mph at one point. The two drivers, one in an Audi and one in a BMW, were pulled over near Ridgefield, according to police.

Both were cited for reckless driving. They'll appear in Clark County District Court.