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Sheriff’s Office Reports DUI Arrests Up Nearly 50 Percent in 2017

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

Heading into the holiday season — traditionally a busy time for DUIs — the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has already arrested more than 100 people suspected of driving under the influence in 2017, an increase of about 50 percent over the past two years of statistics. 

The reasons for the increase are hard to pinpoint, but Cpt. Curt Spahn, patrol commander for the sheriff’s office, said it is partly due to an emphasis on traffic enforcement by Sheriff Rob Snaza. 

“He’s really big on DUI and distracted driving enforcement,” Spahn said. “We’re expecting our deputies to handle more traffic enforcement than in years past.”

Between January and October of 2016, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office arrested 66 people on suspicion of driving under the influence or physical control of a vehicle DUI. 

In this same span of time the previous year, deputies arrested 69 drivers on those charges. But that number has jumped nearly 50 percent so far in 2017 to 98 DUI or physical control arrests as of October. The sheriff’s office has reported several additional DUI arrests so far this month. 

Spahn said an improved economy could also explain why some drivers seem more likely to have too much to drink before heading home. 

The sheriff’s office has seen an increase of hard drug or marijuana-related DUIs, Spahn said, but he noted most involve alcohol. 

“If there’s alcohol on board, we go for the breathalyzer,” Spahn said. “If they refuse, it’s an automatic search warrant and blood draw.”

Spahn said drivers accused of DUIs involving collisions are cleared through the hospital before being booked into the jail, and investigators typically request warrants for blood draws in that situation. 

Spahn said he’s also noticed an increase in crashes involving impairment in the past few years. 

“I guess people have the attitude it’s not going to be them,” he said. 

Other area police agencies haven’t seen the sharp increase. 

The Centralia Police Department arrested 56 people in 2016 for DUI, and so far in 2017 have arrested 45 drivers on the charge. 

The Chehalis Police Department does show a slight increase from 2016 to 2017. Last year, the department arrested 28 drivers for DUI and as of Nov. 19 in 2017 had arrested 31. 

Troopers from the Washington State Patrol based in Chehalis have actually arrested fewer drivers on DUI this year based on year-to-date comparisons. 

At this point both in 2015 and 2016, troopers in Chehalis arrested 179 people on DUI charges. 

However, this year, troopers have only arrested 152 drivers in Chehalis for DUI as of Nov. 15, according to numbers provided by Trooper Will Finn.

Troopers stationed in Morton have seen an increase in recent years, he added. 

In 2015, East Lewis County troopers had arrested 17 drivers for DUI by mid-November and arrested 40 overall for the year. 

In 2016, troopers arrested 34 drivers by the same time, with 37 total DUI arrests. 

This year, those troopers have already arrested 51 drivers suspected of being impaired. 

“I was a little surprised by the numbers up in Morton,” Finn said. 

Finn said he has no way to search the cases based on whether they were primarily drug- or alcohol-related DUIs. 

The state patrol has created a holiday DUI squad that will patrol Southwest Washington starting this week until Jan. 3 in an effort to stop impaired and distracted drivers.