When a new state trooper was injured in a crash on Interstate 5 in Seattle last August, responding troopers called in an expert to determine who was at fault. That expert, a collision technical specialist from the Washington State Patrol, gave answers that the troopers did not expect nor appreciate. He determined that Cadet Trooper Phirawat Apisit was responsible for the crash that left the driver of the other vehicle injured. However, a KING 5 investigation reveals that supervisors at the Washington State Patrol pushed their case against the other driver, a trucker, despite video evidence and the collision technician's report exonerating the truck driver.
"I feel like they're trying to cover up the fact that their officer was in the wrong," said truck driver Shawn Foutch from Snohomish, who recently returned to work after spending months at home recovering from the August 12, 2022 accident. After KING 5 raised questions about the case, the Washington State Patrol announced that it was launching investigations into the responding troopers and their command staff.
Incident reports obtained through a public records request to the Washington State Patrol (WSP) show that the conduct of the responding troopers raised red flags within minutes of the accident. Three troopers wrote that they "smelled a strong odor of alcohol" coming from Foutch while questioning him about the accident. Troopers R.J. Klepac and T. Whales reported this to their sergeant on scene, TJ Johnson. Johnson also wrote in his report "I thought I could detect an odor of alcohol" coming from Foutch.
"That's extremely funny because I don't drink and haven't drank in decades," Foutch said, explaining that he is diabetic and cannot tolerate alcohol. The reports show that Foutch passed a field sobriety test and a portable breathalyzer test. "Zeros on alcohol," said a trooper on a dashboard camera recording that KING 5 obtained from WSP. Despite the lack of evidence of intoxication, troopers asked Foutch to go to the hospital for a voluntary blood draw to detect drugs and alcohol. That test also came back negative.
Foutch went home that night thinking he could put the incident behind him and heal from his injuries. "In my opinion, it was the officer's fault because he didn't take proper precautions," said Foutch. But the Washington State Patrol had other ideas.
Shortly after the accident, WSP received a copy of the trucking company's dashboard camera video where Foutch works. Like many commercial operators, his camera has a view of the driver, a forward-facing view of the road, and data including vehicle speed. The 12-second recording shows Foutch's 80,000-pound semi-truck loaded with U.S. mail traveling below the 60 mph speed limit as it drove under the NE 50th Street overpass heading northbound on I-5. Red flashing lights can be seen ahead on the right shoulder of the freeway and a single flashing red light starts crossing from the left shoulder to the right side.
"Because there were officers on the right side, I thought he was crossing the freeway to try to get to that side of the freeway to catch up with the other officers," said Foutch. Foutch moved his semitrailer truck three lanes to the left to give room to the officers on the right shoulder. The video shows the only State Patrol vehicle crossing the freeway suddenly turning left and swerving into Foutch's lane.
"You're not going to stop it fast," Foutch said about his truck, which worried him that it could get out of control if he braked too hard. The impact with the truck caused Trooper Apisit's SUV to spin and come to rest against a barrier. Investigating troopers said Foutch's dashboard camera video showed he "failed to reduce his speed sufficiently" and that "it was evident that Trooper Apisit checked lanes before making lane changes."
If that were the case, the troopers did not explain why Apisit swerved in front of a semitrailer truck traveling at highway speed. On Apisit's dashboard camera, another trucker can be heard asking the trooper if he's okay after the crash and then telling him that he saw the trooper cutting off the truck. "It was definitely your fault," said trucker Matthew Holiman identified in WSP incident reports. Holiman said the same to troopers, but they described him as hostile and uncooperative.
Three months after the accident, Foutch received bad news by mail. He was stunned when WSP fined him for "second-degree negligent driving," which carries a $553 fine. It is not a criminal charge, but it is significant for someone like Foutch who holds a commercial driver's license. "It's extremely serious because they can and will revoke your commercial driver's license, so now I have no way to earn a living," said Foutch.
He hired criminal defense attorney Lucas McWethy from Lynnwood, who reviewed records and made a call to the WSP collision technician the troopers called to investigate the scene the night of the accident. "During the interview, he clearly stated that my client was not driving negligently and that he advised against issuing him a citation," McWethy said.
In a recorded interview, the WSP collision technician told the defense attorney that Apisit improperly attempted a "progressive deceleration," a technique designed to slow down all lanes of traffic so that troopers ahead of him could merge onto the roadway after a DUI stop on northbound I-5. "It's unclear that there is a deceleration happening," he pointed out, highlighting tactics the rookie trooper used that were ineffective, unsafe, and could have confused the drivers he was trying to slow down.
The collision expert claimed he asked supervisors not to charge Foutch, but the sergeant and Trooper Apisit's colleagues "...are a little, you know, they took it a little personal, I think, just because it's, you know, their teammate was injured."
"Everybody works with the officer involved in the accident and what it seems like to me is everybody rallied around him and they're trying to protect him from any possible repercussions," said McWethy, who has been trying for months to have his client's case dismissed.
WSP supervisors not only fined Foutch but also pressured prosecutors to continue the case, according to documents obtained by KING 5 through a public records request to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. "I'm trying to keep this matter from slipping through the bureaucratic cracks," wrote Sergeant TJ Johnson in an email to King County prosecutors, urging them to subpoena more troopers and evidence for an upcoming court hearing. In a separate voicemail message, Johnson told a prosecutor that Cadet Apisit "...was seriously injured and subsequently has had several surgeries." In the dashboard camera video, Apisit can be seen walking on his own from the vehicle and telling several troopers that he's okay. However, he was taken to the hospital in a first aid ambulance and…
Originally posted at Liga Legal®