YAKIMA -- A new squad of Yakima-based state troopers is targeting the drunken-driving problem in the Yakima Valley and beyond.
The squad of three experienced troopers, plus a sergeant and drug dog handler, started Sunday. The troopers were selected because they already have a strong history of arresting drunken drivers.
"What we expect to see is an increase in the number of DUI arrests across the board, particularly in the Yakima area," said Lt. Jim Keightley.
It's the first time the Yakima area has received additional troopers in several years, Keightley said. Altogether, 27 troopers are assigned to detachments in Sunnyside and Grandview.
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The addition was made possible because headquarters officials agreed to assign three new troopers from the patrol's latest academy class to the Yakima area. The newly commissioned troopers will take over road duties for the troopers who are being assigned to the new squad, known as the DUI Enforcement Team.
In the Yakima area, the team will focus on the Lower Valley, a known problem area for drunken or drugged driving. But the team also will work across the other six counties of the patrol's Yakima district, which stretches down to the Tri-Cities and over to Walla.
Emphasis patrols will be planned for such events as the Moxee Hop Festival and the Water Follies.
Besides looking for drivers who have had too much to drink, the troopers will focus on seat belt violations and speeding -- together the most common factors in fatal crashes.
Recent traffic safety figures show that Yakima County reports more than two deaths per million miles traveled. The state average is one death per million miles, Keightley said.
In 2009, the Yakima district had 55 fatal crashes, the highest rate of any patrol district in the state. More than half of the crashes involved intoxicated drivers, well over the national average of 33 percent.