Annual event featured Sen. Lynda Wilson as keynote speaker
For Clark County Today
On Saturday night, Target Zero, an initiative with the intent to reduce the number of traffic-related deaths and serious injuries to zero by the year 2030, held an awards ceremony in Battle Ground for area law enforcement officers dedicated to traffic safety. The event, called the Night of 1000 Stars, honored officers, troopers, and deputies in Clark County who place emphasis on traffic stops and driving under the influence (DUI) arrests with the goal of preventing collisions that result in injuries.
As a part of Target Zero, many area agencies often work together to form High Visibility Enforcement (HVE) teams throughout the year. Oftentimes, they’ll conduct HVE on holidays that are typically associated with increased impaired driving such as New Year’s Eve, Fourth of July, St. Patrick’s Day, and even the Super Bowl.
The event’s keynote speaker was Sen. Lynda Wilson, who shared her personal ties to alcoholism in her childhood. She grew up in a household filled with domestic violence, she said, that also involved her father binging on alcohol. She said she would often wait up for her dad at night, hoping that he didn’t kill or hurt himself or someone else on the drive home. Sen. Wilson said that Target Zero is important to her for this reason, and that she is grateful for all the officers and staff who put efforts into it.
The Senator mentioned two pieces of legislation that she believes would assist with Target Zero: The first is already pre-filed by Sen. John Lovick as Senate Bill 5002, which would lower the legal limit for driving after drinking alcohol to .05 instead of the current .08. The second piece of legislation relates to providing more funding to recruit, hire, and retain law enforcement officers in Washington state.
According to Sen. Wilson, there are 120 law enforcement agencies in Washington state participating in what’s called High Visibility Enforcement (HVE) to attempt to make more DUI arrests before the drivers have a chance to crash.
“DUI drivers are nothing more than random murderers,” Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori said during his speech. “Every stop truly does matter. You’re our heroes, everyone here.”
Washington State Patrol Captain Jason Linn also spoke, pointing out the difficulty of the last few years for law enforcement with police reform, staffing issues, COVID, and line of duty deaths. “It’s easy to focus on what we can’t do, but we should focus on what we can do instead; one traffic stop at a time,” he said. “Every impaired driver we get off the road is a potential life saved.”
But it goes farther than just one potential life, Battle Ground Police Chief Mike Fort said: “Many people are affected by every single person who dies,” the chief said, “so what you do affects a lot of people. This is one of the reasons we do what we do. This is the ‘protect’ of ‘protect and serve.’”
Chief Fort also pointed out the importance of the partnerships shared between Southwest Washington (SWW) agencies to make the biggest impact possible.
Captain Linn shared some statistics during his speech, saying that there were 1,300 DUI arrests in the five counties of Southwest Washington in 2022, with 900 of those occurring in Clark County. Further, there were 189 DUI-related collisions in 2022 in Southwest Washington, with 30 of those being serious injuries or fatalities.
“How many deaths and serious injuries are ‘acceptable’ on Washington’s roadways?” the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Target Zero website reads. “How many of your family members would it be ‘acceptable’ to lose to traffic crashes each year? Ten? Five? Of course, the answer is zero. The loss of even one family member, co-worker or friend is unacceptable.”
Sen. Wilson said that statewide, fatal traffic collisions are at a 20-year high this year at 663. She indicated that 20 percent of those are due to alcohol and/or drug intoxication. She discussed a bill that has passed many times in the Senate, she said, but fails to pass the House every time and she believes would assist in keeping DUI drivers off the road. That bill is usually sponsored by Senator Padden and would allow for a 15-year “lookback” rather than the current 10-year when determining previous DUI convictions. As it stands in Washington state, a person must have been convicted of four previous DUIs in the past 10 years for the conviction at hand to be raised to a felony charge. Increasing the lookback time by five years would not only see more offenders receive more serious penalties for their convictions sooner, but would also deter potential offenders from driving while intoxicated in the first place.
Recipients of the Region 6 (Clark and Skamania Counties) Traffic Enforcement Award, which was given for exemplary commitment to traffic safety, were from multiple agencies in Clark County. From the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, the winner of this award was Detective Bethany Lau. From Battle Ground Police Department, the recipient was Officer Chris Pagaduan. The Ridgefield Police Department winner was Officer Rob Cuneta. Five Vancouver Police Officers received this award: Officers Jeff Anaya, Sean Donaldson, Casey Heinzman, Eric McCaleb, and Brad Miller. From Washington State Patrol, the winners were Troopers Chris Corner, Austin Lauer, Jason March, Bennie Taylor, Lane Traver, and Jeff Wallace.
Three other awards were given at the event as well. Ryan Lopossa, the city of Vancouver’s transportation manager, received the Public Works/Traffic Engineering Award. The Education/Outreach Award was given to Police Activities League Program Coordinator Eli Shreves, On Target Driving School owner Keith Hiatt, and Vancouver Police Officer Sean Donaldson. There were two winners for the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was given for the dedication of most of one’s career to traffic safety: Retired Detective Todd Young of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office (who retired in November), and Lieutenant Kathy McNicholas of the Vancouver Police Department.
Many law enforcement recipients of the above awards went straight to work for a DUI emphasis following the ceremony.
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