Seattle drivers involved in a January 2016 car crash were left upset and and frustrated after making numerous 911 phone calls that yielded no response from Seattle Police. The drivers alerted 911 dispatchers that they believed the person responsible for the accident was under the influence of alcohol and expressed concerns that he could hurt or even kill others if he left the scene.
The accident occurred around 5:50 p.m., when a four-door sedan drove through a right-turn only lane and crashed into Mariann Oxford's Toyota truck. Oxford made her first 911 call shortly thereafter, explaining that she was involved in an accident and that her vehicle could not be moved, causing traffic to be blocked. Two witnesses also called 911 to report the accident at around the same time Oxford called.
A third witness, Jennifer Aspelund, stopped to leave her contact information, but decided to stick around when she encountered the intoxicated driver and reported that she could smell alcohol emanating from the driver. After ten minutes, police still had not arrived to the scene of the accident. Despite the other 911 calls already placed, Aspelund called again to declare that “... I actually saw the accident happen and this guy appears to be very drunk. And he is kind of wanting to leave, and his car is smashed.”
Oxford later called 911 at 6:16 p.m., and the dispatcher recognized her voice, but cautioned her by stating, “I'm not able to say how long it's going to take ma'am but we do have the call in.” Aspelund decided to dial 911 at 6:48 p.m. after nearly an hour passing since the accident, expressing the urgency of the situation.
In a surprising twist of events, Aspelund and Oxford suggested that the DUI suspect phone the police. The man agreed and called, telling the dispatcher he was involved in a car accident. The dispatcher responded by stating, “if both drivers have Washington licenses and proof of insurance, it's not required to see an officer.” Despite this advice, the suspect did not leave the scene.
After a handful of more calls to police dispatch, Oxford and Aspelund finally gave up on Seattle Police and called the Washington State Patrol -- leading to a state trooper arriving on the scene within just a few minutes of the phone call. The trooper administered a field sobriety test on the perpetrator of the accident, who failed the test. The trooper's report cited that the man's eyes as watery and bloodshot and that he showed signs of poor coordination and slurred speech. A portable test revealed his blood alcohol concentration to measure .111 and tests taken at the precinct reported .098 and .099 -- both registering above the legal limit of .08.
Seattle Police Department's Analysis of the DUI Incident
Sean O'Donnell, SPD's North Precinct commander acknowledged the lack of response by officers, stating the inaction was “inexcusable” and that he is reviewing the situation, searching for what went wrong, and has promised to fix the issue. O'Donnell speculated the lengthy wait-time was caused by the downgrading of priority of the collision after the vehicles were moved out of the flow of traffic, the fact that it was a busy night for officers, and that officers were already responding to many serious calls including a collision rollover, a suicide, and a death, among others.
Still, records of the 911 incident log reveal that during the nearly four hour window that Oxford and Aspelund were waiting, North Precinct officers responded to minor issues including a car prowl, theft of a license plate, and illegal dumping. SPD Chief Kathleen O'Toole issued a statement to King 5 News, expressing that it is “unacceptable when our department fails to respond to a call for service” as it did in this DUI incident, and further showed a desire to fix the “fundamentally broken [911 Center] system”. She will be sending the incident to the “Office of Professional Accountability for further review and investigation.”
If you have been arrested by Seattle Police, Washington State Troopers, or any other Washington law enforcement for DUI, do not attempt to navigate the criminal justice system alone. Police Departments are often overworked -- leading to the possibility of errors during an arrest, the breath or blood testing process, or other procedures. As an experienced Seattle DUI defense attorney, I will educate you of your rights and analyze the facts of your case, and work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome in your case.