Summer was anything but safe

The message on the Bainbridge High School reader board for the last two months – “Have a fun and safe summer” – seems cruelly ironic after car accidents that have left two island teens dead in the past week.

Bainbridge Police statistics show that the frequent intersection of late-night revelry, unsafe driving and alcohol use by local teens made the summer season anything but safe.

“It’s been a worse summer than usual,” Bainbridge Island Police officer Rob Corn said. “There are just a lot of young people out at all hours of the night. We ask the kid, ‘Do your parents know where you are?’

“I’ve caught people at 70 mph in Hidden Cove, on those curves. There were two cars going 80 on Sunrise.”

Since school let out in June, there have been 25 incidents in which police found a total of 145 underage islanders drinking – ranging from kids imbibing in an open field, to full-blown house parties hosted by adults.

Two gatherings were described as “major” drinking parties for kids hosted by parents, each with about 20 youngsters in attendance. In both instances, parents were cited for furnishing liquor to minors, police say; in addition, officers broke up four juvenile parties hosted by non-related adults, all of whom were cited.

Police have made 42 alcohol-related arrests this summer, with underage drinkers evenly split between male and female, department statistician Pat Ritchie said.

Police are still compiling data from previous years, but they believe that the trend will show that more alcohol is being consumed now.

“I’ve been here 28 years in law enforcement and it seems like a lot to me,” Ritchie said, “and we’re just talking less than three months.”

The number of underage drinking parties that stayed under police radar is unknown. Also, when officers must obtain search warrants, kids have time to scatter.

An ongoing problem is parents who try to shield kids from consequences, police say. Corn, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, recalls making his first island arrest for DUI when he returned as a police officer in 1998.

He stopped a 16-year-old girl soon after the laws had changed to lower the legal definition of “drunk” for a juvenile from 0.08 to 0.02 blood alcohol content.

“The first thing, her dad came to the station and said ‘0.05, that’s not very much,’” Corn recalled. “I said, ‘you’re missing the point. Your 16-year-old daughter’s been in an accident. She’s been driving inebriated.’”

For Corn – as for other police and fire personnel familiar with the damage that misuse of automobiles can inflict – the anger has a foundation in anguish.

“We’re first on the scene,” Corn said. “Fire’s first on the scene. They know these kids; we know these kids. I teach them driver’s-ed. If their families have been here a while, I grew up with their brothers and sisters.”

John Kim “J.K.” Spencer understands what it means to be a witness; the Aug. 23 wreck that took the life of Sarah Anne Gillette and injured seven other passengers happened close to his Tolo Road home.

The BHS junior and his father grabbed blankets and ran to help after hearing a “booming crash” and a young women crying out.

“I saw my friends lying there,” Spencer said. “I was just shocked because one of those guys is my really good friend.”

Three of the youths injured in the Aug. 23 collision were listed in satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center, a hospital spokewoman said this week, while a fourth was discharged. Three others were treated and released in Bremerton shortly after the accident.

Police investigations of the wrecks are ongoing.

Officials have cited alcohol as a factor in the one-car accident on North Madison Avenue that took the life of Rebecca M. Phillips Aug. 20.

High speed – 80 mph or more – is believed to have been a factor in the Aug. 23 accident on Tolo Road.

Neighbors and others have said that daredevil driving – called “roofing,” as passenger heads hit vehicle roofs as hills are crested at speed – has been commonplace on that road.

“I’m sure a lot of these kids, their parents have ‘done the Tolo,’” Corn said. “It’s just a matter of if they get caught.”

The number of teens driving has increased as the population climbs – and police say more kids drive after midnight, when alcohol is more likely to be involved.

“Somehow they have to get home,” Ritchie said. “I don’t know very many who call their parents and say, ‘I’m too drunk to drive home.’”

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