(Seattle) The year was new, the weather still dark and cold when a threat to drivers intensified during the morning rush-hour on Interstate-5.
An SUV traveled south in the northbound lanes.
It struck one vehicle, then continued.
Then, it struck another. Still, the SUV pressed on.
Trooper Sean Carr heard the call from dispatch on that January morning.
An erratic, wrong-way driver.
Carr understood the threat level.
“Lots of people are off to work, getting kids off to school or getting them to daycare,” he recalled months later.
As Carr travelled north on I-5, the SUV approached and showed no sign of slowing.
“I had to take her SUV head-on with this patrol car,” Carr shared.
Carr, whose wife and father-in-law are also state troopers, knew this was the type of moment he’d signed-up for when he joined the Washington State Patrol seven years earlier: a moment to serve and protect.
Carr said he made a split-second decision.
“I knew there was a trooper behind me, who was actually a cadet, with his field-training officer riding with him. They were in direct line with the SUV behind me. There was plenty of northbound traffic already on the roadway… And I knew that she’d already struck two other vehicles and continued. And if I did not put myself in front of her, she was going to keep going.
“I made the conscious decision to sacrifice my patrol car, and even potentially sacrifice myself, to stop that (SUV) because as a state trooper, I believe in that; that I am here to run towards the gunfire. I’m here to help people, save people and, if need be, to lay my life down for those people.”
The memory of the moment of impact on that morning nine months ago has stayed with him.
“I think about it every time I put on my vest on and jump in my car,” Carr said.
Incredibly, no one was seriously hurt.
Safety features built into the patrol car—crumple and crush zones—helped minimize Carr’s injuries. His vehicle returned to the road after two-months in a repair shop.
Police said the SUV’s 19-year-old driver was intoxicated.
Carr is acutely aware that the driver and her passenger were fortunate to have survived.
“Absolutely. And in previous years, I responded to, basically, a mimic situation: A young lady who was going the wrong way, southbound in the northbound lanes…. And she ended up striking a small pickup truck with two teenagers inside, of which the young female teenager lost her life instantly. And the young male driver, he was in serious condition and in intensive care for several months.”
Carr recalled the moment when police first made contact with the impaired driver in that crash.
“We were literally putting the flames out on her vehicle while she was still in the driver’s seat with a broken leg. And she’s asking us, why did we pull her over? She had no recollection or knowledge that she had just ended someone’s life and sent somebody else to the intensive care unit.”
Carr said that, in one year alone, he responded to three cases involving wrong-way drivers who were drunk.
“I personally can’t stress enough the importance of communicating with your kids,” Carr said.
“Parents need to talk to their kids about the fact that, you know what? If you make a mistake, you make a mistake. But instead of risking your life and risking the lives of numerous other people, call somebody. Call your mom. Call your dad. Call your uncle. Call your aunt. Your brother. Your sister. Somebody that is sober and can come take care of you. You’d be better off calling mom and dad and letting them know that you’re not okay to drive, than me calling mom and dad and meeting them at the doorstep and telling them that you’ll never drive again.”
DOL produced the two videos below featuring our interview with Trooper Sean Carr.