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Despite eight calls, police are unable to nab driver

11:10 PM, Sep 10, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9)--Only on 9, a suspected drunk driver caught on tape... but never captured by police! It may not be as easy as you think to get a dangerous driver off the road.

It all unfolded when one of our colleagues tried to do the right thing.

"This person is dan-ger-ous!"

Those were the word of WUSA9 photographer Kurt Brooks, who spotted an erratic driver on his way home from work.

"This is a bad one," he said, his voice captured on the tape rolling on his dashboard camera.

He later explained, "My criteria for getting involved in something like this is how obvious is the event? If it's really obvious, I'm gonna have to do something about it as a citizen."

So Kurt called police EIGHT times... and was handed off to a variety of police agencies--Bowie, Anne Arundel and Maryland State Police. For 40 minutes and roughly 40 miles, Kurt followed the driver... and recorded some disturbing video with his dashboard camera.

"I'd love to stay on the line and try to get this person caught. They're really dangerous," he told one dispatcher.

The driver weaved in and out of lanes, along the shoulder of the road and straddled the center line.

"Unbelievable!" screamed Kurt, while witnessing the driver's maneuvers. Can't hold a lane. Just nearly ran someone off the road."

Suddenly, inexplicably, the driver would hit the brakes.

"I've been on the line with state police and county police," said a now exasperated Kurt, to yet another dispatcher.

The unidentified driver hit speeds as slow as 40 miles per hour to well over 60.

"We've been going jurisdiction to jurisdiction to get this person caught because they've been so incredibly dangerous," Kurt told a dispatcher.

It appeared to be an accident just waiting to happen, but Kurt says police were either unwilling or unable to help.

"Okay, I'll call the freaking county again!" he yelled after yet another dispatcher told him their department couldn't help, either because of low staffing levels or in one case, a serious accident. But he never gave up.

With each call, Kurt offered specific details on the location of the driver.

"Nobody's been able to get a police car to pull this guy over!" Kurt muttered to himself. 

 

Kurt Erickson of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program said, "Drunk drivers on area roadways outnumber law enforcement. There are more drunk drivers than there are men and women in uniform looking for the same so we do need this extra set of eyes."

 

But they may -not- be very reliable.

The Washington Regional Alcohol program polled more than 800 drivers from DC, Maryland and Virginia, and found that 96% thought there was nothing wrong with people reporting suspected drunk drivers to police. But 70% of them said when confronted with a would-be drunk driver themselves, they failed to report it. 

One of the challenges in an area like ours is that a potential drunk driver can cross through multiple jurisdictions.

"Somebody leaves Georgetown and goes over Key Bridge and they get on I-66. They could be in Washington, DC, Arlington County and Fairfax County all within about five minutes," said Erickson.

Only after more than 40 minutes, did the driver make it home. It was a woman, who asked Kurt, "Why you video me?"

We can't tell you her name, because she was never charged with a crime.

"I was angry," said Kurt who asked her, 'Are you drunk tonight?'

She replied, "No."

Kurt asked, 'Do you know how badly you have driven all night?'

"No," she replied. 

Kurt told her, 'I've been following you for half an hour, m'am.'

"No," she interjected. 

"I've been following you since Route 50," he said. 

"No," she repeated. 

"Yes, m'am," said Kurt, who asked, 'Can you explain to me why you drive the way you drive?'

Before rolling up her car window, the woman offered another, "no." 

Said Kurt, "I knew the moment she pulled up in front of her house and pulled in that driveway, it was done. She won."

"What seems to be the problem?" said a man who came out of the driver's home. He simply rolled his eyes and walked away when Kurt explained what he'd witnessed.

Said Kurt, "Maybe she would have told me, 'Oh, I don't feel well. I'm diabetic.' Then you know what? The whole thing, gone. I probably would have called for medics."

But she didn't.

"I had to know. I had to know the ending to it," explained Kurt of his 40 minute effort.

WUSA9 spoke with police in all three jurisdictions and they all expressed frustration about the challenges of catching up with a dangerous driver crossing city and county lines. With just a few exceptions, officers cannot enforce traffic laws outside their own jurisdiction. 

Police do NOT advise citizens to follow a suspected drunk driver, because that could be dangerous. They do urge motorists to be "good witnesses" by reporting a vehicle's tag number, make and model, and the direction of travel.

The Washington area is clearly losing the fight against drunk drivers. Alcohol-related fatalities are down nationwide, but up 14% in DC, 8% in Virginia and 5% in Maryland.

If you see a suspected drunk driver on the road, you're urged to dial #77 on your cell phone in Virginia, and call 9-1-1 in Maryland or DC.

Written by Andrea McCarren

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