VIDEO: Trooper speaks about dangers of impaired, distracted driving

September 9, 2014
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Trooper Sean Carr

(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. 


DOL staff receive statewide traffic safety awards

September 30, 2010

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission has honored DOL staff members for going beyond their job duties and making outstanding contributions to traffic safety.

Tana Cochran, manager of the Driver Training School Program, won in the category of Young Drivers. She has made major improvements to the parents’ guidebook for teaching youth driving skills, coordinates a large yearly driver education training conferences for driver training instructors and has developed new ways to gather and analyze DOL data to help minimize teen driver collisions.

Bruce Chunn and Haiping Zhang’s Predictive Model Research Project won an award also in the category of Young Drivers. The project was created to research and create a predictive model for at-risk drivers. The project researched Washington driving records looking for a predictor of future collisions and correlation between traffic violations not including a collision, and the increasing probability of collisions. The project concluded that an individual who recently received their first traffic violation is twice as likely to have a collision, and 16 to 19 year-old drivers have approximately twice the risk of older drivers. As a result of the project’s conclusions, DOL has expanded the use of warning letters as an early intervention system for 18 to 19 year-old drivers who receive their first traffic violation.

Tony Sermonti and Mark Horner and their work with the statewide Text-Talk-Ticket campaign won in the category of Distracted Driving. Lead by DOL and the State Patrol, the campaign was a public awareness campaign preceding the new ‘primary offense’ cell phone law. The campaign designed and presented a new logo and slogan for distracted driving, Talk-Text-Ticket. The campaign included well-attended media events, a Seattle morning news show tour by DOL director Liz Luce, a video public service announcement, driver training school outreach and a tour of high schools and the Puyallup Fair with a vehicle involved in a fatal distracted driving collision. The kickoff message on April 30, 2010 reached more than 600,000 households, and the public service announcement received more than 500,000 unique visitors per month.


Parents say daughter was texting when killed in crash

April 30, 2010

By Mark Horner

In the days that followed a horrific crash on Thurston County’s Littlerock Road in late February, small articles  in local papers reported that 19-year-old Heather Lerch had been speeding when her car struck a guardrail at roughly 60 miles per hour.  The young woman who’d graduated with honors last year from Tumwater High School died instantly.

But there is more to this story.

Having pieced together information from police, the coroner and phone records, Dan and Wendy Lerch say they’re now convinced that their daughter was texting when her car left the road.

“There’s no doubt in my mind.  Texting was 100-percent involved,” Dan Lerch said.

It’s why the Lerch’s have agreed to appear in a Department of Licensing video with a simple message:  Don’t text or do anything else that can distract you while driving. The video (seen below) is about 5 1/2 minutes in length.  A separate 30-second public service announcement also features footage from the video.

The state of Washington is taking aim at distracted drivers.  A new cell phone law goes into effect in June.  It’ll make talking or sending text messages while holding a wireless device a primary traffic offense.

“Pay attention to the road.  Pay attention to your surroundings,” Dan Lerch began.  “Distractions are everywhere from reader boards and signs that flash in front of you on the road to your cell phones and iPods and your buddy asking you, ‘What are you going to do now?’  Is it worth your life?”

That’s the part of the message that lends itself to words.  Losing a child is another matter.

“There are no words, at all,” Wendy Lerch shared.  “It’s a nightmare you keep thinking you’re going to wake up from.”