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Posted on: March 9, 2015

Weekend events commemorate Puyallup man killed by driver high on prescription painkillers

This weekend, Christopher Michael Kerns will be remembered in Puyallup with a memorial sign dedication and DUI emphasis patrol. To some, the crash that killed Kerns on April 17, 2014 in Puyallup had all the telltale signs of a potential drunken-driving case.

A driver ran a red light at the intersection of Meridian Street and River Road, barreled into a car, and struck Kerns who was crossing the road in a crosswalk to buy a sandwich on a break from work. Next, the driver scooped up the critically wounded pedestrian and carried him on the hood of his car into an adjacent car dealership where he hit four more vehicles before he came to a stop. Fellow employees watched helplessly in horror.

But the 41-year-old victim - a Navy Veteran who was looking forward to going back to college to finish an engineering degree and getting married soon - was killed by a 64-year-old grandfather who was not drinking. Toxicology tests conducted after the crash revealed the retired pipefitter who struck Kerns was high on a mix of legally prescribed painkillers and anti-depressants.

“Gone are the days when drunk drivers were our only concern,” says Sharon Reynon, Coordinator of the Tacoma Pierce County Victim’s Panel. The group is working with the victim’s fiancé and family along with the City of Puyallup to install a memorial sign and host a roadside ceremony to remember Kerns at 4 p.m. on Friday, March 13 at the busy intersection.

“Alcohol is but one of many drugs that can make you dangerous behind the wheel,” says Reynon. “Many people these days are on multiple drug cocktails, especially prescription drugs.”

On Saturday night, March 14, the Tacoma Pierce County DUI and Traffic Safety Task Force will conduct a special St. Patrick’s Day DUI emphasis patrol in Puyallup and the surrounding area, dedicating the patrol to the memory of Chris Kerns.

At least five drug recognition experts – officers trained to spot signs of drug impairment in drivers – will join other deputies, troopers and local law enforcement officers to hunt for impaired drivers in the Puyallup area beginning at 9 p.m., March 14, a day law enforcement predicts will involve above-average alcohol consumption.

The Washington State Patrol’s mobile impaired driving unit will be parked near the corner where Kerns was killed. Patrolling officers will bring their arrested drivers to the specially equipped and staffed unit for DUI processing, keeping the DUI officers, including the drug recognition experts, on the road as long as possible.

In the case of drivers suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, a blood draw will be completed after a warrant is obtained. In memory of Kerns, officers also will hand out flyers to all the drivers they come into contact with throughout the evening.

“Because combining prescription drugs and alcohol is even more dangerous when you’re on the road,” says Puyallup Police Chief Bryan Jeter, he and the task force’s Home Safe Bar Team will visit all of the city’s bars early in the evening Saturday.

The purpose of the visits is to remind bar managers, owners, and servers of the state’s alcohol laws and how many drivers over the past year told police they’d been drinking at their businesses prior to being arrested for DUI. Bars that serve someone who is subsequently arrested by officers Saturday night will be visited again by the team, including the Liquor Control Board.

“We’re making it really easy to have a few green beers and still get home safely Saturday night,” says John Cheesman, Chief of the Fircrest Police Department and Chairman of the Tacoma Pierce County DUI and Traffic Safety Task Force.

In collaboration with the task force, Uber, the rideshare company that connects riders to drivers at the touch of a cell phone button, is offering a free-ride home promotion to make it easier for residents to enjoy themselves without posing a risk to themselves and others.

New Uber users hoping to take advantage of this promotion simply have to download the Uber app (get.uber.com/go) for free and use the promo code RIDESAFE2015. Then enjoy a safe Uber ride home free of charge, up to $20.

A similar St. Patrick’s Day campaign involving multiple law enforcement agencies, several transportation companies and Home Safe Bar teams will be conducted in north and south King Counties by the traffic safety task forces there.

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Media who would like to attend the sign installation ceremony on Friday in Puyallup should contact Sharon Reynon, Tacoma Pierce County Victim’s Panel, at (253) 228-1774.

Those wishing to accompany the Home Safe Bar Team, ride along with DUI officers, or interview a family member of the victim should call Sgt. Joe Pihl, Puyallup Police Department, (253) 377-3802.

Interviews with Uber personnel also can be pre-arranged by contacting Laura Zapata at laura.zapata@uber.com.

Through Friday, March 13, information about both events can be obtained from Gloria Mansfield Averill, Tacoma Pierce County DUI and Traffic Safety Task Force, Pierce County Community Connections, (253) 320-4306.

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