Fatalities plummet in county

Traffic fatalities in Island County were more than cut in half last year, fulfilling one of Sheriff Mark Brown’s campaign promises.

Appalled by the record 15 people killed on the county’s roads in 2006, Brown partnered with the Washington State Patrol’s Oak Harbor detachment and the city police department to stop the rising numbers. State Patrol Sgt. Jason Longoria pledged his agency’s continued support.

“We look forward to the continued partnership,” he said.

The sheriff’s immediate designation of Lane Campbell as full-time traffic deputy helped make a marked difference, lowering the number of traffic fatalities to six. Neither Brown nor Longoria, however, are resting on their laurels.

“The State Patrol’s goal is to get that number down to zero,” Brown said. “We are going to help. We won’t be happy until that goal is met.”

“Through more visibility and less tolerance for traffic violators, that is a 60 percent reduction in fatality collisions in Island County,” Longoria added.

Overall collisions were down 12 percent for the local WSP detachment, which the sergeant attributed to the 272 DUI arrests and nearly 15,000 traffic stops.

“This was accomplished with six troopers in cooperation with the sheriff’s office,” Longoria said.

Brown’s department also boasted auspicious numbers across the board. The sheriff’s department itemizes its information to justify the $416,000 it receives from the county roads tax annually.

“We approximate the cost of traffic safety in the county,” Brown said. The total expense for 2007 was more than $750,000, up from $650,000 the previous year. More cash outlays in the specific category equates to more vigilant patrolling.

Traffic stops made by county law enforcement spiked from 8,018 in 2006 to 14,480 last year, an 81 percent increase. By extension, citations jumped 44 percent from 1,650 to 2,383. DUI violations totaled 134 in 2007, a 6-percent increase, while all other criminal traffic violations like reckless driving and first degree negligent driving saw a large increase from 225 to 366.

“That’s a 62-percent increase,” Brown said of the latter category. “We attribute these numbers to active patrols and our presence. We’re very pleased.”

Traffic stops serve a dual purpose, the sheriff said. They deter others from committing infractions and have been successful in the capture of dangerous criminals.

“People underestimate the value of a traffic stop,” Brown said. “They are highly valuable.”

Reported vehicle accidents similarly decreased from 1,257 to 1,184, equating to a 6 percent decline, while traffic-related dispatches increased from 3,596 to 4,473.

“I think we’re reacting better to the calls,” Brown offered as a partial explanation for the improved road safety.

The Oak Harbor Police Department’s two mobile officers have provided much-needed help in monitoring traffic violations, as have the law enforcement agencies in Coupeville and Langley.

“Coupeville Marshal David Penrod came up and helped with the very successful seat belt emphasis patrol,” the sheriff said.

As co-chairman of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’ Traffic Safety Committee, Brown has worked fervently in Olympia to keep Island County adequately equipped to maintain the positive trend.

“All three agencies in the county are thought of as highly in their efforts to control and reduce traffic collisions and fatalities,” the sheriff said.

Of the $400,000 in grant money requests, the state association distributed $240,000. The sheriff’s office received funding to purchase four portable breathalyzer instruments. The OHPD was given money to buy digital camera equipment fitted for motorcycles.

“The commission looks strongly at how they’re trying to use the dollars and what’s being asked for,” Brown said.

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