State trooper attacked as Seattle’s homeless problem spills onto I-5

Jun 13, 2016, 3:36 PM | Updated: Jun 14, 2016, 8:22 am
An attack on a Washington State Patrol trooper on I-5 in Seattle last week left the windshield dama...
An attack on a Washington State Patrol trooper on I-5 in Seattle last week left the windshield damaged. (WSP image)
(WSP image)
LISTEN: State Patrol trooper attacked as Seattle's homeless problem spills onto I-5

Things have changed dramatically along the I-5 corridor in Seattle for Sgt. Courtney Stewart since starting with the State Patrol 14 years ago.

Just like for the rest of us, traffic alone has made it much harder to get around. And the ever-growing homeless tents and camps along and under the freeway?  Stewart and her troopers are the ones who have to deal with all the problems that come with them.

Related: Latest report details difficult living conditions for Jungle residents

“The increase is insane,” Stewart said, “Which is kind of taking us away from our primary job function, which is protecting the motoring public.”

Stewart says the number of incidents involving the homeless, mentally ill, inebriated people wandering onto I-5 has skyrocketed recently.

“When I started out as a trooper, we maybe got one or two pedestrian calls, maybe in a week,” Stewart said.  “Looking at our numbers, just in the month of May alone, the troopers responded to 529 pedestrian calls.”

That’s 529 times a month troopers weren’t available to respond to accidents, help stranded drivers, or respond to other calls.

The situations continue to grow more complex every day.

Stewart recently responded to a woman shooting drugs alongside the I-5 express lanes just south of the Ship Canal bridge during rush hour, in plain view of passing motorists.

Then there’s the woman troopers tried getting off the freeway 13 times this month alone.  Although the woman was clearly disturbed and breaking the law, there’s little troopers can do except offer to connect her and the other homeless with services at either Harborview or Overlake Medical Center.

“That didn’t work out,” Stewart said.  “She refused the food and water we tried to give her.  She really wanted to go to jail but she wasn’t suitable to go to jail, so we were kind of stuck.”

For the troopers, it’s both heartbreaking and infuriating.

The law prevents jails from taking people who have certain medical or mental health conditions, like the woman on I-5.

Then the troopers have to try and get them involuntarily committed to a psychiatric unit, but the person has to be considered an immediate threat to themselves and others.

When they’re in the ER, they’re not on the roads.

“Oh, they can come off the road for six-to-eight hours just waiting to get someone cleared,” she said.  “It’s a lengthy process.  So when you look at that and you think what’s our primary job function, it’s not sitting at Harborview waiting to book somebody.”

Suffice it to say, troopers didn’t sign up to be social workers and drug counselors when they first went to the academy.

The state patrol is doing all it can to provide supplemental crisis intervention training now to all its troopers, Stewart said.

“We’re kind of playing a little bit of a catch up in dealing with these people,” Stewart said. “Even though you have that training, the reality of it, when you’re faced with it, still is very, very difficult.”

Especially since many don’t actually want or take help.

In the meantime, the growing powder keg comes ever-closer to blowing up. It nearly did last Thursday morning when a fight in Seattle’s notorious Jungle homeless encampment spilled out onto I-5.

A trooper was called out to reports of a shirtless, distraught man swinging two large metal pipes.  When the trooper confronted him, the man attacked the trooper, Stewart said.

The trooper faced two choices: shoot the attacker or run to his car, lock the doors, and wait for backup – which arrived soon after.

Lucky for the attacker, the trooper chose the latter despite the danger.  In the meantime, the guy smashed the windshield with the trooper inside.

“That guy’s very lucky because that trooper was within his rights to use deadly force in a situation like that.  The state trooper was trained very well…luckily it ended the way it did,” Stewart said.

But Stewart worries someone is going to get killed out there.  They’re already dying just off I-5.  She recently got called out to the Jungle about a dead body.

“A man had been deceased probably overnight,” Stewart said.  “And people had been walking over him, and he had been laying there for a long time.  We’re there.  I’ve seen it.  My primary concern is the troopers that I supervise and those that I work with every single day.  I don’t want to see any of them get hurt.”

In the meantime, everyone keeps passing the buck.

Seattle city leaders say it’s inhumane to clear the camps. Some have actually proposed adding outhouses and other services in some of the areas including what they are calling the I-5 East Duwamish Greenbelt.

State patrol brass say it’s the Washington Department of Transportation’s job to clean up the camps and the city of Seattle’s job to deal with the people living in them.

But at the end of the day, it’s the troopers bearing the brunt of it.

“It does feel like the situation is out of control with the encampments on the freeway,” Stewart said. “I don’t see an answer in sight or an end to this anytime soon.  So we’re kind of the one’s left dealing with it.”

Ron and Don

KIRO Newsradio Newsdesk

Ron and Don’s last show on KIRO Radio

Last night was Ron and Don’s last show on KIRO Radio.
3 years ago
Kelly Herzberg in her natural habitat. (Photo by Rachel Belle)...
Rachel Belle

In Seattle, a personal shopper and stylist who only shops at thrift stores

If you think you can't afford a personal stylist, head to the thrift store with Sweet Kelly Anne Styling's Kelly Herzberg who will pull hundreds of pieces for you to try on.
3 years ago
Viaduct waterfront...
Ron Upshaw

What do we do with the waterfront after the viaduct is gone?

After the viaduct is taken down, we'll be left with a choice: What do we do with one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the country?
3 years ago
Ron Upshaw

Shower Thoughts: Ichiro can give Mariners fans something to root for

Rumor has it that Ichiro might make a comeback next year, and I for one welcome it.
3 years ago
Border wall...
Ron Upshaw

Trying to figure out why people want Trump’s border wall

A little over 40 percent of Americans now support the idea of a border wall, but what is it about it that seems so attractive?
3 years ago
Dan McCartney, Pierce County Sheriff...
Don O'Neill

Why you could hear kids’ voices on Pierce County Sheriff radios Monday night

Sometimes, "gone but not forgotten" isn't always how slain officers are remembered. But in Pierce County, a special effort is being made to commemorate a fallen deputy.
3 years ago

Sponsored Articles


Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
State trooper attacked as Seattle’s homeless problem spills onto I-5