WSP ramps up DUI patrols on New Year’s Eve in the Tri-Cities

TRI-CITIES, Wash. — Washington State Patrol was not only on the lookout for tumbleweeds on New Year’s Eve, but for drivers under the influence.

The day started for Sgt. Paul Wanzenried at 6 p.m. KAPP-KVEW had the opportunity to ride along with WSP to see how they’re keeping everyone safe. The night started off with a lot of speeders – many going more than 10 mph over the speed limit.

“He said he just didn’t realize he was going over,” Wanzenried said. “He said I didn’t know you were a cop.”

Wanzenried said many DUIs happen during the summer when everyone is out. This time of year is a little different.

“The winter months tends to keep people home a little bit,” he said.

Drivers were dodging tumbleweeds on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Plus, the wind started to push cars around, but the troopers have the training to notice the difference between weather-related driving and someone under the influence.

“The biggest one is the ability to maintain their lane position,” he said. “The higher the level of intoxication goes the worst it gets and so they’ll be bouncing from one line to the other and drifting.”

Many of the drivers speeding were simply just going over the limit. No alcohol was detected. However, the same couldn’t be said for an 18-year-old girl moments after 2020 came around.

“The driver of this vehicle has been placed under arrest for DUI. It’s occupied with three other underage individuals,” Wanzenried explained. “Right now we’re just trying to figure out how to get the vehicle where it needs to go.”

The driver did a field sobriety test that was voluntary. She failed it. Wanzenried said something like this usually wakes up younger drivers.

“Sometimes when we bring people that are underage into the jail system, that’s an eye-opening experience for them,” he said. “She will be spending the night in the Benton County Jail.”

This traffic stop was ideal for WSP because it could’ve been something completely different.

“It could’ve been a lot worse,” he said. “We could’ve been investigating a four-person fatality collision. So that’s why we’re out here doing what we’re doing tonight — to stop these collisions before they happen.”

Just a short time later into 2020, another driver was pulled over for speeding. Wanzenried said he smelled alcohol coming from the car, but suspected it was the passenger. However, he wanted to do more digging.

“Continue to ask them some questions. Where they’re going. Where they’re coming from,” he said. “The odor that I’m smelling may be coming from him [passenger]. Anytime I detect the odor of alcohol coming from the car, I need to make sure the driver is okay to drive.”

The driver did one test out of three. They’re given to determine if someone is driving under the influence.

“If I saw signs of impairment there, I would’ve went on to the other two,” Wanzenried said. “Because I didn’t in that one I didn’t need to go any further.”

She was given a warning for speeding and was sent off. WSP also had a specialized trooper looking to detect people driving while under the influence of drugs.

The Tri-Cities arrested five people between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day for driving under the influence of either drugs or alcohol.