Interlock waivers: A loophole for DUI drivers

SEATTLE -- An astonishing loophole in our state's drunk driving laws allows people arrested for DUI to skirt safety measures. A KOMO 4 Problem Solver investigation found the government is one of the biggest offenders, and we found one agency that sends such drivers into neighborhoods every day.

In April 2012 Carrie L. Ray was arrested in Kitsap after blowing a .21 on a portable breath test. Ronald Mason was picked up in Arlington in March after his portable breathalyzer test registered .15. Whatcom Sheriff's deputies arrested Jacqueline Scott in Bellingham after she blew a .17. And Kevin Hutchings of Mill Creek was arrested when his car got stuck on a flooded street and responding officers noted he blew a .25 at the scene. The legal limit is .08.

All four were arrested for DUI. Though two later pled guilty to a lesser charge and one got a deferred prosecution, all four drive for a living. Each one was required to install an ignition interlock on their cars.

But in each case the United States Postal Service, their employer, signed waivers allowing them to drive company vehicles without an ignition interlock.

Victim of a drunk driver in 1997, Karen Minahan is appalled,

"Who said this was okay?" Minahan said.

Likewise, victim Rosalind Hall, who was hit by a drunk driver in 2012, shakes her head.

"It's not okay," she said. "It's just not okay."

Hall and Minahan both had their lives torn apart. After 13 surgeries, Hall still struggles to regain the mobility she lost when a drunk driver plowed into her while she was jogging near her home.

"I was hit and tossed 25 feet in the air over the embankment," she said.

Minahan was loading up her van when a drunk driver crashed into her three times, unaware of what -- or who -- she was hitting. Minahan's leg had to be amputated at the scene, and she spent the next month in a coma and the first year in a hospital bed.

"I almost bled to death," she said.

Both women were stunned when we told them that employers can easily circumvent the public safety protection of ignition interlock laws. Minahan advocates for stronger DUI laws, does weekly victim panels for dui drivers and is a member of the Governor's DUI task force. She had no idea such waivers even existed.

"I believe it's a risk to the public," she said. "That is not right - that is not right!"

Ignition interlocks require drivers to pass a breath test to prove they haven't been drinking before their car will start, but our Problem Solver investigation discovered a loophole. It's called an ignition interlock waivers, and it's a simple one-page form. Any employer can get such a waiver from the Department of Licensing -- all they have to do is ask for it.

So even if a court requires a driver to use an ignition interlock in their personal vehicle this loophole allows people to avoid the devices in company cars.

"It's not right," Minahan said. "It's unacceptable and it should not be happening."

Using the public records laws, the Problem Solvers examined more than 5,000 waivers DOL has received since 2009. Five hundred of them, roughly 10 percent, are for local, state, and federal government workers. The Post Office signed the largest number of waivers -- at least 16.

Most of the Post Office waivers are for regular mail carriers, the ones who drive through neighborhoods every day. That thought sends chills down Hall's spine.

"You're telling someone it's okay if you go out and drink during your lunch or whatever, or drink all day long," she said. "We don't know that they don't have something in their truck."

The Post Office declined our request for an on camera interview. In a written statement, the Post Office says, "the safety of our employees and customers is our top priority, evident in our comprehensive safe driver training program." It goes on to say the Post Office's decision to use waivers so employees can drive postal vehicles is, "considered on a case by case basis."

So we looked at one of those cases: Kevin Hutchings, an 8-year veteran of the USPS. Mill Creek Police arrested Hutchings in his personal vehicle in the middle of the day. Police reports show he admitted having one, two, or three beers and quote him as saying he liked "having one in the morning because it helps him start his day."

Hutchings blew a .25 at the scene, more than three times the legal limit. He later blew a .22 and a .21 at the police station.

Hutching still drives with an ignition interlock on his personal car, but not while delivering mail. His supervisor at the Mill Creek Post Office, Alan Sinfuego, confirmed to us that he had signed the waiver allowing Hutchings to drive without the interlock device. We wanted to know why he would sign such a waiver and what, if anything, he was doing to ensure public safety or provide any extra oversight on Hutchings. But like the USPS main office, Sinfuego declined to answer our questions.

The whole thing outrages Minahan.

"We as taxpayers should be very angry about that because we are paying their wages," she said.

The Problem Solvers are partnering with Minahan, who plans to immediately take the results of our investigation to the legislature to start work on closing the waiver loophole.