Alleged DUI Accident Blocks KP Highway During Commute

Fatal car crashes are on the rise across the state. So are police pursuits of impaired drivers.


A rollover car accident at approximately 5:15 p.m. March 5 blocked the Key Peninsula Highway in both directions just north of Key Center for 45 minutes, leading to substantial traffic at a busy hour.

The accident was significant not just because of the traffic delay but because it involved only one vehicle and its driver, according to KP Fire Department Public Information Officer Anne Nesbit.

“It was a single-car crash, but he had to be extricated and transported to the hospital,” she said. “It is safe to say that the vast majority of our accidents occur due to excessive speed, and many of those drivers are impaired,” though she did not comment on the condition of the driver.

One firefighter on the scene who spoke to KP News on condition of anonymity said, “He reeked of alcohol. He’s lucky he didn’t take somebody else out.”

A second responder said, “And then you have the other people that are (angry) at you when you’re directing traffic at the accident. It’s mind-blowing.”

In an email to KP News, Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Darren Moss, Jr. said the injured driver was not cited. He did not answer questions about the driver’s alleged impairment or any pending charges. He included this narrative:

“Vehicle No. 1 was traveling southbound on Key Peninsula Highway NW in the 9700 block. Witness was following vehicle No. 1 and reported swerving and speed fluctuation prior to vehicle No. 1 striking the embankment twice, then rolling on its side.”

KPFD has responded to 30 serious car accidents on the KP between January 1 and press time, March 15. In the last quarter of 2023, there were 42.

“I have significant concerns about the number and severity of auto crashes we see here,” said KP Fire Chief Nick Swinhart. “Almost daily I see people passing cars in the turn lane in Key Center or passing on blind corners at a high rate of speed on the KP Highway. I’d ask that people please slow down. The few minutes you might save isn’t worth your life or the life of other drivers on the road.”

In 2021, there were 345 traffic fatalities in Washington state due to impaired drivers, according to the Washington State Patrol. In 2022, there were 389. In 2023, there were 400.

Since the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill 1054 in 2021 restricting police pursuits, among other tactics, the number of local chases has declined significantly, according to the December 2023 Pierce County Sheriff’s audit of its performance. But at the same time, it said, “the proportion of pursuits for DUIs has increased ... More DUI offenses occurred from July 2021 to July 2022 than in the four previous years of data.”

The audit also said “Statistical models suggested that in Pierce County, HB 1054 resulted in 26 avoided accidents, eight avoided injuries, with 45 arrests not made. Law enforcement agencies have reported a dramatic increase in failures-to-yield and stolen cars, but more analysis is required to identify the direct impacts of HB 1054 on car theft.”

HB 1054 limited pursuits to when officers had probable cause to suspect someone in a vehicle had committed a violent offense, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offenses, was driving under the influence, or trying to escape arrest.

The Legislature passed initiative 2113 March 5 lowering the bar to police chase to reasonable suspicion that someone in the vehicle has broken the law, not specific crimes. The initiative will take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session March 7.