DUI-related deaths up as WA police scale back enforcement

DUI arrests are down in Washington state, but that doesn't necessarily mean people are drinking and driving less.

YELM, Wash. -- Jason Ley’s name was recently added to a growing list of people killed by drunken or drugged drivers in Washington State.

His mother, Catherine Ley, received an early morning visit at her Yelm-area home last October from a police officer and a chaplain. They told her Jason was killed in an accident on Interstate 5 near Lakewood.

“You know what’s really ironic is that he didn’t drink. He never drank. It just seems so unfair that that would happen to somebody who doesn’t drink,” Ley said of her deceased son.

A KING 5 Investigation finds that Jason Ley’s case is part of a rise in the number of DUI-related deaths on Washington roadways -- an increase that came as law enforcement scaled back drunk-driving crackdowns.

“I find it appalling,” Ley told KING 5.

Last October 21, Ley's son, a 46-year-old computer and data expert who worked for ADP, was involved in a fender bender in a construction zone.

While Jason Ley was exchanging information with other motorists, a suspected drunk driver roared through the orange barrels marking the construction site and slammed into the damaged cars.

As a traffic backup formed behind the fatality accident, a second crash occurred. Troopers arrested a second DUI suspect, whose BAC registered more than twice the legal limit.

“You figure, within a mile, two DUIs,” said Catherine Ley. “To me, that would mean that this is so much bigger than we all think.”

Statistics bear that out.

Since 2011, DUI fatalities in Washington rose each year to a reach a six-year-high in 2015, according to data from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

In 2015, 258 deaths were attributed to crashes caused by drunken or drugged drivers (2016 statistics aren’t final yet). During that same period, arrests of DUI suspects fell by one-third.

In 2015, 23,485 DUI suspects were arrested, according to data reported by the Washington Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs. That may seem like a lot, but it's 10,771 DUI arrests fewer than were reported in 2011.

The Washington State Patrol is responsible for about half of the DUI arrests statewide each year. A spokesperson acknowledged that DUI arrests are going down, even though there is no sign that there are fewer intoxicated drivers on the road.

And the State Patrol is clearly alarmed by the rising fatality numbers.

“We’ve really been working hard with other state agencies to try to drive these numbers down. To see them go up, we’re going in the wrong direction,” said WSP’s Kyle Moore.

Moore says there are several reasons for the declining number of arrests. One is the fact that processing DUIs now takes a trooper longer than one or two hours per arrest.

“It’s taking longer to process these DUIs, which means troopers are off the roadway for up to five hours and can’t go out there again and grab the next driver,” said Moore.

Moore says court rulings and changes in DUI procedures have added to the process. For example, courts required the use of blood tests, which necessitate a warrant approved by a judge – as well as a visit to the closest hospital.

“It used to be we’d just do a breathalyzer. Now we’re required for the most part to do blood draws, which is a lengthier amount of time,” Moore said.

He says another serious problem is the shortage of Washington State Patrol troopers. He says the force is down 15 to 20 percent from full-strength. That means fewer eyes hunting for intoxicated drivers.

“It’s scary to know that there’s probably more drunk drivers on the roads now than there have been in the past,” said Mischelle Davis, chairwoman of the advisory board for Washington Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Davis says she’s heard stories from officers in local police agencies who admit that they try to avoid DUI arrests because there isn’t enough time in a busy shift to work them.

“Very often they’re being a little more lenient than they would have been in the past,” Davis said. “Instead they’re doing something like impounding somebody’s vehicle and sending them home in a cab as opposed to processing it as a DUI.”

That didn’t happen with the JBLM soldier who hit and killed Jason Ley. Troopers say Dillion Nash’s BAC registered at 13, well over the legal limit. He’s been charged with vehicular homicide and is awaiting trial in Pierce County Superior Court.

Catherine Ley says the death of her loving son, who was a national board game champion, will reverberate through the lives of his siblings and nieces and nephews.

"I just know the hurt that (Nash) caused my family will be hard to forget," she said. “It doesn’t just affect me. It affects generations of my family.”

Follow Chris Ingalls on Twitter @CJIngalls.

Copyright 2017 KING


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