With safety in mind, officers patrol for impaired drivers

Annual countywide effort ‘Night of 1,000 Stars’ nets 6 DUI suspects

ckrotzer@theolympian.comDecember 24, 2012 

It doesn’t take wild, erratic driving to tip off a public safety officer that a driver might be under the influence.

A few wide turns, weaving in the lane, driving with no headlights or abrupt stops is sometimes all the indication needed to show a driver could be impaired.

“We base our decision by the totality of all of our observations; driving, personal observations and field-sobriety tests,” said Washington State Patrol Trooper Guy Gill.

Gill was among several officers from multiple jurisdictions working Thurston County roads Saturday night into Sunday morning as part of the 22nd annual Night of 1,000 Stars DUI emphasis patrol sponsored by the Target Zero program.

“The thought is you have a community that includes more than just the cities being separate from one another,” said Jerry Noviello, Target Zero Manager. “If there are people drinking that live in Olympia, they are likely to go outside of Olympia to do that.

“By having a connected network of officers, it’s highly visible; everyone knows police are out and the roads are safer and prevent people from impaired driving.”

Officers with the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, Olympia Police Department and several others met for a quick briefing at 7 p.m. before hitting the roads.

Emphasis patrols have been going on since Thanksgiving and will continue through the New Year.

“We do this emphasis because we truly believe removing impaired drivers from our roads saves lives,” Gill said. “There will be emphasis patrols every weekend until the New Year.”

Officers were looking for drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana that was just recently legalized for those 21 and older with the passing of Initiative 502.

Under the initiative, anyone 21 years old or older can have up to one ounce or less of marijuana, 16 ounces of solid marijuana-influenced product or 72 ounces of liquid marijuana-infused products. Anyone driving can only have up to five nano-grams of THC in their system.

As for looking for those impaired by marijuana, it’s business as usual for officers.

“The way we do business is not going to change,” Gill said. “We are looking for impairment. We are probably going to see an increase of people impaired by the use of marijuana, but the way we do things will not change.

“With this newest law regulating marijuana, people are going to have to understand they still need to do the right thing. They can’t come out on our roads impaired.”

Toward the end of Gill’s emphasis shift Saturday night, he noticed a woman driving a blue Camaro down South Bay Road, repeatedly driving the car over the center lane, then over-correcting, going to the right of the fog line.

Once on a safe stretch, Gill switched on the lights and pulled the woman over, who told Gill she had just left a friend’s house, picked up some groceries and was within a mile or so from home.

Gill said he could smell alcohol on her breath and noticed her eyes were red and bloodshot.

He had the woman get out of the car and complete the three standard field sobriety tests.

During the first test, Gill checked the woman’s eyes by having her follow the tip of a pen back and forth.

“We are looking for the involuntary jerking of the eye,” Gill explained.

The woman then was asked to walk a straight line and turn. The third test was to hold one foot up while the trooper counted.

The last step was to take a Breathalyzer test.

“Based on the totality of all my observations at that time, I believe she was impaired and obviously not safe to operate her vehicle,” Gill said.

The woman was placed under arrest and taken to the old Olympia Police Department downtown for follow up paperwork and a second Breathalyzer test.

The woman’s car was towed where it will be held for 12 hours, a requirement by law in any DUI arrest. Gill issued a DUI citation and drove the woman home after being unable to reach a family member to pick her up from the station.

“She is safe at home with a court date and I took her off the road, so she isn’t going to hurt herself or anyone else,” Gill said.

The State Patrol pulled over six impaired drivers during the emphasis shift this past weekend. Troopers arrested eight DUI drivers during the same event in 2011, seven in 2010 and nine in 2009.

The rest of the agencies involved in the Night of 1,000 Stars emphasis arrested one DUI driver in 2011, seven in 2010 and five in 2009.

Gill pulled over another man that was weaving in and out of his lane on Interstate 5 near Olympia and came to an abrupt stop during the traffic stop. After checking his information, he asked the man to step out of the car and do a field sobriety test.

The man’s eyes were not glossed over as they would have been if he were impaired. The driver was free to go home.

Contrary to popular belief, a driver does not have to be over the legal limit of 0.08 to be arrested for DUI.

“If you are under a 0.08, you can be arrested and charged with DUI,” Gill said. “Everything is based on impairment.”

Gill pulled over 23 drivers during a 6-hour shift. Most of the stops were for minor violations, such as no headlights on, a taped over taillight, and one where a woman made an illegal U-turn at a busy intersection.

Many of those minor infractions could be signs of impaired driving, Gill said.

“We are looking for violations commonly associated with impaired driving, like lane travel; any violations that in the training history I have that I commonly associate with DUI or impaired driving,” Gill said.

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 ckrotzer@theolympian.com theolympian.com/thisjustin @chelseakrotzer

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