Police armed with new BUI law for Seafair on Lake Washington

by: John Knicely Updated:

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SEATTLE —

The logboom on Lake Washington for Seafair started to fill up with boats Friday and several police boats were patrolling nearby. Local, state, and federal police officers are collaborating to crack down on boating under the influence and they have a new, tougher law to help.

This week the new BUI law went into effect. It increases fines from $1,000 up to $5,000 and could land offenders in jail for a year.

"I've seen legs chopped by propellers," said Fish and Wildlife Police Sgt. Erik Olson who testified in Olympia for the new law. "I've searched for people who've drowned, and I can tell you that the Legislature has shown by making (BUI) a gross misdemeanor we do take this seriously."

If police pull over a boat and suspect the driver is intoxicated they will conduct a field sobriety test and possibly a field breathalyzer. You can legally refuse the field breathalyzer, but you'll then be hauled to the police command on shore. At that point refusing the official breathalyzer will come with a fine of $2,050 after court fees. And you can still be charged with BUI.

"If they refuse the test, we still have the probable cause that got us to that arrest," Olson said. "So it's up to the prosecutor to do the charging."

Mercer Island police set up a police command post at the Proctor Landing dock across Lake Washington from the hydro pits. There they can do the entire BUI booking process in 30 to 40 minutes instead of the several hours it normally takes. A prosecutor is on hand to review charges, the suspect is booked, mug shots and fingerprints are taken, and the official breathalyzer is taken.

Even with the new law, Olson expects several BUI arrests over Seafair weekend.

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Previous Seafair BUI Emphasis Weekends:
-2008: 83 BUI arrests.
-2009: 110 BUI arrests.
-2010: 59 BUI arrests; 463 vessels were contacted.
-2011: 70 BUI arrests; 536 vessels were contacted.
-2012: 61 BUI arrests; 693 vessels were contacted.