June 15, 1998
Andrew Walgamott/staff photo
Washington State Patrol troopers assist on a party patrol bust deep in the Cascade Mountains near North Bend last weekend.
(Editor's note: Our reporter rode with the King County Sheriff's Party Patrol last Friday night.)
by Andrew Walgamott
It's a warm, clear June evening in Western Washington, perfect for barbecues and sunset strolls. But members of the King County Sheriff's Party Patrol are expecting a busy night tonight. Thousands of high school students, including the senior classes at Woodinville, Bothell, Inglemoor, Redmond, Juanita and Issaquah High, have graduated this week.
At 8:30 p.m., about twenty youngish officers gather at the North Precinct in Kenmore for the patrol. They wear the green uniforms of county deputies, dark blue of Bothell, Duvall and Snoqualmie police, and light blue of Mercer Island. Others are in street clothes. This is the posse that will drain the kegs, pour out the beer and haul off the kids at any under-age drinking party they find.
Sgt. Alex Johns, who is running the patrol tonight, methodically runs through procedures for the fifth time in three weeks, reminding officers to advise kids of their rights and to photograph beer cans and kegs. He hands out a list of known party spots to check. A state liquor control board agent details the new tobacco laws which say it is a misdemeanor for minors to possess cigarettes-"things to work on in your spare time," she says. After the briefing has broken up, officers scatter to the nooks, hideaways and parks of north and northeastern King County.
I'm riding with Deputy Pete Horvath, 31. As we cruise through Kenmore listening to country music I find out the Monroe bachelor has no sympathy for minors drinking. He says it's not the way for them to unwind. "I'm not much of a drinker myself," Horvath says. "I don't feel alcohol is necessary to have a good time." He gets his kicks on horseback as a team penner. Team penning is a little like what we're doing tonight. In penning, Horvath says three horse riders go into a herd of cattle and separate out three cows while keeping the rest of the herd under control. When we find a party, a platoon of cops will round everyone up, separate them into three age groups and then test them for alcohol. Top penners can earn cash and belt buckles; cops on the patrol will only win resentment from the kids.
Driving through Juanita, the radio crackles sporadically with party reports. There's something going on in Redmond and on Mercer Island. We head towards Woodinville after a someone reports 30 to 40 juveniles gathered near Leota Junior High. Along the way, Horvath tells me he put together a drunk driving accident simulation for Sultan High School after students there were involved in a alcohol-related crash. "If we reach one person we've made a difference," he says.
Just then dispatch reports 60 to 70 kids are gathered at a trailhead parking lot on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River which is in the Cascade Mountains near North Bend. Anyone leaving that party has at least a 10 mile drive to pavement. We point the nose of Horvath's Jeep Cherokee southeast. On our way, we and a caravan of four other cop cars, will talk with five kids by a campfire off East Lake Sammamish Road, cruise a Union Hill neighborhood and check into a report of loud music on the west side of Sammamish. But it's becoming evident that tonight's action will be in the mountains. Led by a Duvall car, we flog our vehicles east on I-90 to a rendezvous with state troopers, Sgt. Johns and a Sheriff's bus.
Middle Fork bust
At midnight, a column of 18 officers in nine vehicles heads up the Middle Fork Road, a dusty, narrow potholed sidewinder of a drive we take at about 40 mph. Horvath gets nervous as we close on the reported party. We're passing Jeeps, old BMWs and trucks headed back to North Bend, just like last year, he says, before cops descended on a party at the trailhead only to discover 150 or so Eastlake High School students drinking kegs of root beer.
What are we going to find? Will this tire-chewing, muffler-eating ride be for naught? Tonight, two plain clothes officers, who look like they've spent a couple hard nights in the woods, are the first on scene. Out of the back of their sport-utility vehicle spring two Duvall cops and the bust is on. This year it's the Issaquah High "senior party" and there's no sign of root beer, only crunched cans of Keystone Ice, Rainier Ice, keg cups and a keg of Red Dog beer.
Cops with flashlights surround the twenty or so minors who are placed under arrest and sat down on a piece of driftwood to await processing. Some smoke cigarettes defiantly as they're divided into groups. Demian Beckner, 18, gets a reading of .048 when he blows into Horvath's portable breathalyzer. "This is pathetic," says Beckner afterwards. "We're good kids. There are over 15 cops here."
His friend, J.D. Benson, 19, agrees. "I think they're taking things a little overboard and they ought to let kids have a little fun," says Benson. He blows a .001, but how could that be, he asks, claiming to have only drank Coke and Snapple tonight. Later he is retested and twice blows in the .04 range. A trooper notes Benson's tongue is coated, a sign, he says, the youth has been drinking.
Both Benson and Beckner are cited for misdemeanor Minor in Consumption and released. But nine minors under 18, five boys and four girls, aren't so lucky. They're loaded in the back of the Sheriff's bus for the 51-mile ride back to Kenmore. It'll be 3 a.m. by the time they arrive at the station. One will want to call his parents, to tell them he's still alive, but a police clerk will call his, and the others, parents to come and get them.
Sgt. Johns terms this an "average bust" for the year. Among the catch is a minor who'd been caught the week before at a Mercer Island party. So far, about 170 minors have been arrested for MIP and MIC. Besides this party, police break up a small gathering in Shoreline. Craig Phillips, Northshore School District security chief who says he rides along for fun, notes that no students from the district have been caught by the patrol this year. But he says that being in or close to Snohomish County, some Northshore kids party up there where this is no patrol.
As we head back to the precinct, I ask Horvath how he feels about the bust. After a long pause, he says, "I think in the long run it's good for the kids. Now they're angry, but it keeps them off the roads and it alerts their parents to watch what their kids are doing." Johns says the patrol, in its second year, will continue through the month.