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Driving Under the Influence

On today's episode of Talking Beat, we're discussing driving under the influence, or driving while impaired. Whether it's alcohol, illegal drugs, marijuana, driving while impaired can and has killed on the streets of Portland. It's impact is far reaching from those who are injured or killed to those who are responsible.

Later in this podcast, Sgt. Nick Newby is going to talk to us about his experience being hit by a drunk driver. But first, we're talking to Capt. Stephanie Lourenco, who oversees the Traffic Division. We're going to ask her about what's occurring on our streets in regard to this dangerous behavior, enforcement, and what the community can do.

 

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Transcript:

Announcer:
Welcome to Talking Beat, the podcast for the Portland Police Bureau. We're focusing on thoughtful conversations that we hope will inform and provide you with a small glimpse of work performed by Portland police officers, as well as issues affecting public safety in our city.

Announcer:
Here's what's on today's show.

Sgt. Newby:
3638 CODE 3 Medical, we just got hit.

Sgt. Newby:
She was laying on her back, she didn't move. I stood over her, I got on my knees, and I was going "Kim, Kim you all right?" Her eyes were open, but she wasn't saying anything. I thought she was dead.

Host:
On today's episode of Talking Beat, we're discussing driving under the influence, or driving while impaired. Whether it's alcohol, illegal drugs, marijuana, driving while impaired can and has killed on the streets of Portland. It's impact is far reaching from those who are injured or killed to those who are responsible.

Host:
Later in this podcast, Sgt. Nick Newby is going to talk to us about his experience being hit by a drunk driver. But first, we're talking to Capt. Stephanie Lourenco, who oversees the Traffic Division. We're going to ask her about what's occurring on our streets in regard to this dangerous behavior, enforcement, and what the community can do.

Host:
Captain Lourenco, alcohol and marijuana are so prevalent and part of our culture. Do more people drive impaired these days, and what are officers seeing on the streets?

Capt. Lourenco:
Well, I don't know if more people are driving impaired these days, but I do know that my division investigates all the fatal traffic crashes that occur in this city, and that over 47 percent of those fatal crashes involve impaired driving. We are doing everything that we can at the Traffic Division to prevent that, and to bring justice to the families that are affected.

Host:
What are some of the barriers to this kind of enforcement?

Capt. Lourenco:
Well, the largest barrier right now is staffing. This is a very specialized type of enforcement, requires a lot of training and experience. Officers at the Traffic Division, for example, are certified in all sorts of things, such as field sobriety, A.R.I.D.E., Intoxilyzer, as well as their crash investigation skills.

Capt. Lourenco:
And then, once you have a person in custody for DUI, there's a process that involves a lot of paperwork, it involves testing on a Breathalyzer machine, or Intoxilyzer. It may involve a blood draw. Then, after that, if the person is lodged, then all of those reports have to be done in time for the hearing the next day. So, this, with an experienced officer, can take several hours per arrest. So, on average, our traffic officers can process perhaps two, maybe three, DUI arrests in a night, and then they are done.

Host:
Later in the podcast, we're going to be talking to a sergeant who was hit while on duty by an impaired driver. What's going on out there?

Capt. Lourenco:
Well, unfortunately, that has happened to several of our officers in the past year, year` and a half. At the Traffic Division alone, I have had one motorcycle officer struck by an impaired driver twice in one year. So, we're seeing that.

Capt. Lourenco:
Also, just at the crime scenes. When we're at fatal crashes, unfortunately, it is not too uncommon to have an impaired driver drive past a barricade or crime scene tape into our crime scene that we're trying to investigate, where someone has been killed, oftentimes due to an impaired driver. Then they've contaminated that crime scene, they've endangered the officers that were there, and then they too are also subject to an arrest for driving under the influence.

Host:
I think one problem with us trying to message don't drive impaired, is that people never really think it's going to be them.

Capt. Lourenco:
Right. We always seem to focus, and rightfully so, we focus on the victims at these crashes, and the drivers are part of this picture as well. A lot of people don't think that they're going to be the driver. They don't think that they're going to be the one that gets caught up in this.

Capt. Lourenco:
Recently, I was assisting with one of these fatal crash investigations where an impaired driver was arrested. While my team had done all their work, that driver needed to be transported to jail. So, because they were busy, and we were short-staffed, I volunteered to drive him down to jail.

Capt. Lourenco:
It was a heartbreak, not just because someone was else dead, but because this was a young man, he was a really, really good young man, had a couple of jobs, was "Yes sir. No ma'am." He was talking about how bad he felt, the regret. All the way down to the jail, understanding that his life, as he knew it, was over. Before we got out of the car, he asked me, and I've never had this question before, he asked me for advice. He said "What can I do to get through this?" That just hurt me, because he knew that his life, as he knew it, was over also.

Capt. Lourenco:
He was just beginning his life. He had a lot of... he had a really bright future ahead of him. He had just had a couple drinks too many and went out on the road. He came to a corner that he couldn't navigate successfully, and he ran someone over. He ran a pedestrian over. That really broke my heart. Just from that perspective also.

Capt. Lourenco:
So, it can happen to anyone, and that's really the problem with alcohol or drugs, is that once you start consuming that, you lose the ability to make good decisions. Your judgment is impaired. That judgment includes taking the next drink. You know, going out for a drive thinking that you're okay. Then, suddenly, you know, many lives are changed as a result of that impaired judgment.

Host:
So, I think what I'm thinking about somebody driving impaired, it's at nighttime, maybe when they're coming out of the bars or had drinks after work or something like that. But it happens all the time, doesn't it?

Capt. Lourenco:
It does. Certainly, the majority of our fatal crashes or impaired crashes are at night, but, for example, we're doing a lot of enforcement through school zones. We arrested an impaired driver this morning. That driver's being processed right now. It's just now around noon. So, this can happen at any time of the day.

Host:
Other than not driving impaired, what do you want people to do? What do you want the community to do?

Capt. Lourenco:
What I want the community to do is just know that over half of our fatal collisions are related to impaired driving. We get about 20 or 30 of those a year. So, they need to take an active role in helping to prevent that. They need to stop a friend from drinking and driving. They need to monitor themselves, take advantage of ride-share and public transportation. Be responsible. Get a designated driver, all the things that everyone knows about any way. Be a part of the solution, and if you are driving, if you're coming back from work or just from a night out and you're okay, and you see a drunk driver, please report it. That's a 9-1-1 call. Now, you need to report that with your hands free, you can't have your hand on your phone when you're doing that, because then you become part of the problem. But, it needs to be reported.

Host:
Anything we haven't covered?

Capt. Lourenco:
My final thought on DUI is, that somehow this has become culturally acceptable. That people are dying from drunk driving and people aren't up in arms about it. People are dying, lives are being destroyed and then everyone gets up the next morning and just carries on like it's another day.

Host:
In the early morning hours of January 13, 2018, Officer Kim Adams and Sgt. Nick Newby were involved in a serious crash on I-5 northbound, just south of the Interstate Bridge. The person responsible was sentenced to 20 days in jail and three years of probation. In addition, he can't drive for five years. Since this case has been adjudicated, Sgt. Newby is able to sit down with us and talk about that night.

Host:
Sgt. Newby, take us back to what happened in mid-January 2018.

Sgt. Newby:
I remember it was an early Saturday morning, it was cold, it was nice out, it was around the holiday season. I want to say it was pretty steady that night. I had just left the precinct and I was just rolling around, monitoring calls. I didn't notice that Officer Kim Adams was on a call on I-5 north at the Interstate Bridge.

Sgt. Newby:
She had been there for probably 10 minutes, looking at the call on the computer. I was thinking about that spot and I was like, "If she's actually on the bridge on I-5 north, that's a bad spot because there's no shoulder for a vehicle to park, so you would have to be on the freeway itself." I noticed that there was no other car attached to her and we were pretty busy and we were short officers. So, I decided to attach myself to that call and go up to cover her. So, I headed that way. I arrived a short time later, and I saw where she was parked, and she was parked in the right lane behind a car that was stalled.

Sgt. Newby:
The original call came out as a stalled vehicle. So, I came out, I parked a ways back. I knew I'd be on the freeway. Just to hear the stories about crashes and it being the holiday season. It's a Saturday night and I think it was about probably 1:30 in the morning, around there, maybe a little bit before that. You know, you hear the stories about drunk drivers. So being in the lane of I-5, that was really concerting. I parked quite a ways back from her car.

Sgt. Newby:
I turned the wheel of my patrol car all the way to the left. If my car was to get hit, it would hopefully not go straight into us where her car was, Officer Adams' car, and then the car that was stalled on the freeway.

Sgt. Newby:
I did that and then I turned on the emergency lights for the patrol car. The back of the light bar on the cars, they have an amber traffic signal, I turned that on, letting people know they need to merge to the left. And then because it was such a bad spot, I put a bunch of flares behind the patrol car to help give some identification to people like, "Hey, you have to move over."

Sgt. Newby:
I talked to Officer Adams and she let me know that it was actually a DUI. That's what it turned out to be. It wasn't a stalled car. The driver of the car that was stalled was intoxicated and he ran out of gas. That's why he was stuck in the middle of the lane.

Sgt. Newby:
We got a tow truck going, expedited the tow and Kim was getting ready to transport the suspect out of the area. I told her "I'll wait for the tow truck to come." We were standing between, kind of right on the fog line. Between her car and my car, and we were maybe two to three feet apart from each other just talking real quick about what our next step was, when I just heard a huge, loud crash out of nowhere.

Sgt. Newby:
It's funny, because they tell you like when you're in a traumatic experience, you remember everything and that event lasted maybe two to three seconds, but my memories of it are like 30 seconds worth of time. I heard the loud crash and I look over and I see the patrol car, my patrol car, flying towards us and it kind of turned at an angle cause the wheels were turned. The patrol car swung in front of me within maybe six inches, I remember the back end just swinging right in front of me. Then I looked over and I saw Kim, which was two feet away from me, three feet away from me, and the back end hit Kim.

Sgt. Newby:
I just remember her flying. It picked her up like she was a paperweight. She flew, she was probably about five feet in the air, and she flew from the fog line all the way into the center lane of I-5 and flew up probably about 25 to 30 feet. It's crazy to me thinking about how the time, it was like a time warp. I remember her landing and then I clearly remember the front end of this white truck that's all mangled and it's heading right at me. I'm trying to get to the Jersey barrier that was only, I don't know, three or four feet away from me, super close. I'm running for that, hoping to get over it when I just feel the truck coming, hitting me, and kind of pulled me under it and it pushes me against that Jersey barrier.

Sgt. Newby:
Luckily, I was, it was the way that truck landed, it was at a slight angle. I was able to pull myself out from underneath and climb out between the truck and the Jersey barrier, then ran over to check on Kim. I thought she was dead. She was laying on her back, she didn't move. I stood over her. I got on my knees and I was going "Kim! Kim! You all right?" Her eyes were open, but she wasn't saying anything. I thought she was dead.

Sgt. Newby:
Luckily, I looked over her. I put some weight on her. I can remember I put weight on her leg or her shoulder, and she just yelled out, "That hurt!" That was a little relieving to me knowing that she actually was alive, because I thought, her face was covered in blood. When she landed, she landed on her head. It pulled her scalp back.

Sgt. Newby:
At some point, I don't really remember, I called for medical and asked for the freeway to get shut down. I've heard the recordings after that, of getting on the radio. I don't really remember that piece.

Sgt. Newby:
I remember sitting on I-5 on my knees with Kim and looking and looking, seeing traffic stopped. Everybody luckily stopped. I just remember a ton of headlights. Pretty soon after, I could hear the sirens coming. I heard, I remember Sabrina Dobbs, she was the first officer that arrived. She helped us out. Medical got there.

Sgt. Newby:
But, anyhow, it's just a weird experience because the time warp of an event that lasted a couple seconds. The memories of it seem like it took forever. The crash itself seems like slow motion. The wait for medical seemed like it took a long time. But, I'm sure it was minutes. In the end, you know, we were super lucky. Kim's alive. She's doing relatively good for what she experienced. I was supposed leave for Thailand the next day, and luckily, I was able to. My injuries were relatively minor compared to Kim's, which is kind of surreal to me because, after I got back from my trip to Thailand, I saw photos of the crash, and the spot where I was, where the truck had me pushed against the Jersey barrier, was such a small space. It was so small. If I had been over six inches, it would have been a totally different story.

Sgt. Newby:
It's just, it makes you wonder like how I was in the right spot at the right time, considering the event, that I ended up being, after that truck came to rest, was where this little pocket was. Just enough space that you wouldn't get crushed. I felt the truck pushing against me, but it didn't cause major injury. It makes you think about the wonders of life and how things happen. It would have been totally different if I was just over a couple inches. That truck was right against that Jersey barrier, except for that little pocket. Because it was at a little bit of an angle, there was a little bit of space. It was probably one of the most traumatic things I've experienced, seeing a co-worker flying in the air and thinking that they're dead.

Host:
What happened to the driver who hit you?

Sgt. Newby:
I remember looking up at him as I was standing over Kim. I yelled if he was okay. I had ran over to Kim after I got out between his truck and the Jersey barrier. So, he was probably 30 feet away from me. He just kind of looked at me, and I could tell he was drunk just by looking at him. He just shook his head that he was okay. He just had that kind of faceless, expressionless stumper. Someone like you'd see leaving a bar that was just completely wasted.

Sgt. Newby:
He ended up being arrested for DUII. I believe he blew a point away or point 09. You'd think about somebody who, he was drunk and the driving and may end up getting into a crash, especially one where it's, they drove right into the back of a police car with its lights on with flares behind it. You'd think that they would probably be, have a much higher blood alcohol level, but he didn't. He was just barely over the legal limit. It makes you realize that drunk driving when they say "Drunk driving is also buzzed driving," that means something, because it could take somebody's life.

Host:
So it's kind of incredible that you were stopped for a drunk driver and then you got hit by a drunk driver.

Sgt. Newby:
Yeah. The drunk driver of the van, he was young. I want to say he was like 21, 22, a young kid. Kim and I, we've had conversations about this. The drunk driver of the van, for which the call was initially started, because it came in as a stalled vehicle, he was sitting in the back of Kim's car. If my patrol car wasn't there to take that hit, we're not sure that he would have either been pretty seriously injured or dead. Who knows?

Sgt. Newby:
There was a witness to the crash who called the drunk driver in that hit Kim and I, called in his driving because he was there behind him on I-5 and he was weaving back and forth in the lane. The witness said that as they were coming up to where Kim and I were stopped, the witness said they could clearly see that there was a police car there, the lights were on. They noticed the traffic amber bar on the back warning drivers to move to the left. They slowed down quite a bit, because they were like "Oh my God, this guy's not going to move over."

Sgt. Newby:
So, reading the report from the witness, they mentioned that when the drunk driver hit the patrol car, when he hit the car, there was no attempt to stop. It was as if there was no car in front of him. He just went full highway speed into the back of that patrol car. Had that patrol car not have been there, and it had been Kim just there by herself, this could be a totally different story also.

Host:
So, what do you have to say to somebody who, I guess, who we are trying to reach with this? Somebody who maybe had driven drunk before or somebody who hasn't thought about it, but may find themselves in that situation?

Sgt. Newby:
There is really no excuse to drive drunk today. I mean, you have TriMet, you have Uber, you have Lyft, you have taxi cabs. There are so many resources to get you to where you want to be if you choose to drink, that don't require that you drive. There's just no excuse for that. You just got to realize that your actions, they have consequences, and could have really bad consequences for other people. Killing them, injuring them seriously, those are things that you're going to have to live with. You took somebody's life, and it's something that could have been totally prevented. There's just no excuse. Don't drink and drive.

Announcer:
Thanks for listening to the Talking Beat. Do you have a question for us? You can call and leave us a message on our dedicated voicemail line at 971-339-8868. Or send us an email to talkingbeat@portlandoregon.gov.

Announcer:
If you've enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends. More episodes can be found at our website portlandoregon.gov/police/podcast