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John Ducker: Mind-boggling tales from the impaired-driving beat

One unit alone picked up 14 impaireds plus six 24-hour suspensions in the first three weeks of December
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An officer speaks with a driver at an impaired-driving roadblock on Blanshard Street in Victoria in 2014. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

To hear some of the tales told by Const. Stephen Pannekoek, a guy who has booked a lot of impaired drivers in his career, you soon realize that when catching drunk or drugged drivers, there’s no such expression as: “Now I’ve seen everything.”

That point was highlighted one more time to the veteran VicPD traffic cop and his partner when they were dispatched to an impaired driving call late one morning in the lower Cook Street area.

The suspect vehicle took off before police arrived but was followed by motorists who called it in via 911. Pannekoek caught up a few moments later when the guy got stuck on a narrow Fairfield street behind a crew unloading a delivery truck.

The driver had a bit of liquor odour on him and his eyes were glassy but his walking and talking were unremarkable. By most appearances he was Mr. Normal, except for two things.

Minutes before, he had mowed down a pedestrian in a crosswalk and when he blew into the breathalyzer about an hour later his two readings registered at .320, exactly four times the legal limit.

“I had to triple check the readings,” Pannekoek said.

“He had gone to the B.C. liquor [store] and when he got there, he got his usual daily booze but then he got a mickey for the road,” Pannekeok said. “He had actually chugged the mickey in the parking lot of the B.C. liquor [store], got back in his car and that’s when he hit the pedestrian.”

If you thought those facts alone were good enough for the “Now I’ve Seen Everything” hall of fame you’d be wrong. When they pulled up at the scene, Pannekoek’s partner had to bail out from the police car and chase down the victim pedestrian, who took off running. The victim’s broken leg, however, led to a speedy capture and medical attention.

Over the past two years, Const. Chelsea Cofield, a drug recognition expert with the Saanich Police Traffic Safety Unit, has worried as much about drugged drivers as she has about drunk ones.

She’s not only seeing a rise in drivers affected by antidepressants common in many prescription meds, but also a rise in those affected by narcotic analgesics — heroin, methadone and fentanyl.

“A lot of people are saying: ‘I’m prescribed this medication. I’m prescribed methadone for my addiction,’ and they kind of use it as a justification as to they’re allowed to have it, so then they should be allowed to drive,” said Cofield. “When you choose to use it and then you get behind the wheel of a vehicle, there’s issues obviously.”

Cofield cited a recent case in the Royal Oak area where a woman weaved into the lane next to her, side-swiping a car carrying two parents and two young children. The suspect, oblivious to the prang, was flagged down by other motorists who saw what happened and held her there until Cofield arrived.

Though clearly impaired, a road-side screening test registered zero for alcohol. Cofield then had to undertake a labyrinthine administrative and investigative process to determine by what means the woman may have been impaired. In eight to 10 months, after a urine sample is analyzed, she might have an answer.

Staff Sgt. Adam Tallboy, the RCMP commander of the lower island’s Integrated Road Safety Unit, sounds somewhat dismayed when recalling a case his crew worked in Central Saanich alongside their CSPD counterparts during an impaired-driving roadblock.

“One of our members stopped the vehicle coming through the check-stop. It was 8:30 p.m., with a family inside, a gentleman, his pregnant wife, his young child and his parents,” said Tallboy. The officer involved, suspicious because of an alcohol smell, gave the driver a roadside screening test which promptly registered a “fail.”

That meant a 90-day prohibition from driving but also the loss of the family car to a mandatory 30-day impound. And this one had an irony, definitely not lost on Tallboy. “Turns out he was the only one in the vehicle who had been drinking,” he said. “He could have cost his pregnant wife, his child, his parents by his poor choice or anyone else on the roadway.”

Tallboy’s unit alone has picked up 14 impaired driverss plus six 24-hour suspensions in the first three weeks of December. Tallboy says: “To me that’s a disturbing stat.” It should be disturbing to all of us.

COVID will dampen many New Year’s eve festivities this year. But if you are going to imbibe, please have a plan around driving. Let’s not give any of these officers or their colleagues more chances to enter the “Now I’ve Seen Everything” hall of fame.