The drunk driver in front of Michael was making obscene gestures at him and, at one point, threatened to swerve into his vehicle. Michael, an on-duty taxi driver in Brookings, backed off but stayed behind the suspect’s truck, using his cell phone to give a 911 dispatcher second-by-second updates on the drunk driver’s location.
The suspect crossed the Chetco River bridge at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday, heading north into Brookings. Less than minute later, two Brookings police cars flashed their lights and quickly pulled the driver over. The man was arrested and taken to the Curry County jail where he was charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Minutes after the arrest, Michael sat in his taxi cab nearby, the adrenaline starting to subside. The excitement ended on a Brookings street corner, only a few blocks from where Michael first picked up the suspect – as a customer – and drove him to Lucky Seven Casino in Smith River.
“He wanted a ride to the casino,” Michael said. “I could tell he was pretty drunk. He was kind of abusive. I drove him to Smith River. When he got to the casino, instead of walking inside, he walked across the parking lot and got into his truck.”
Michael followed the drunk driver north on Highway 101 from Smith River into Brookings. He used his cell phone to provided a police dispatcher with a description of the suspect’s truck, the license plate number and current location.
Michael expected authorities to pounce on the drunk driver as the vehicle crossed the Oregon/California border into Harbor. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an Oregon State Police trooper or Curry County Sheriff’s deputy on patrol in the area at that time. The drunk driver continued to swerve in and out of his lane.
“I thought for sure he was getting to hurt someone if something didn’t happen soon,” said Michael.
He continued to follow the drunk driver, at a safe distance, until Brookings Police officers pulled the suspect over.
“He did a great job,” Brookings Police Lt. Donny Dotson said of Michael. “On that night, he prevented a drunk driver from endangering other lives.”
Motorists report drunk drivers several times a week, Dotson said. In most cases, the police dispatcher helps guide each motorist as they follow the suspect.
The first instruction is to stay a safe distance behind the drunk driver.
“If the drunk driver is speeding, don’t try to keep up with the maniac,” Dotson said.
Next, the dispatcher asks for a vehicle description and license plate number, which helps responding police officers locate the vehicle. If the driver can safely track the suspect car, all the better.
Not all reports of drunk drivers turn out to be such. Sometimes, the suspect driver is driving erratically because he is tired or distracted. It’s not uncommon that police give drivers a warning or citation for using their cell phone while driving, which is illegal in Oregon.
Occasionally, a suspected drunk driver is actually having a medical emergency, suffering from a heart attack or diabetic reaction, the latter with symptoms that often mimic drunkeness.
Whether the driver is under the influence or suffering a health emergency, getting such drivers off the road quickly can save lives.
As for Michael, he may have saved a life that Friday night.