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Sleepy driver hits WSP patrol car at freeway speed along I-5; trooper injured

KOMO/Air 4 photo

FIFE, Wash. - A driver who fell asleep behind the wheel slammed into a state trooper's patrol SUV Friday morning as the trooper was making a traffic stop along Interstate 5 near Fife, the Washington State Patrol reports.

The incident unfolded at about 6:30 a.m. when the trooper pulled a SUV over in the southbound lanes of I-5 between 70th and 54th streets in the Fife curves, said Trooper Brooke Bova.

The trooper was in his patrol car when another vehicle approached at freeway speed and slammed into the back of his vehicle.

"Didn’t even have time to put his seat belt on and was struck from behind," Bova said.

The 33-year-old trooper sustained facial injuries and was taken to the hospital to be checked for other injuries. He was conscious and alert when medics arrived on scene, and even waved to KOMO's Air 4 news helicopter was he was loaded into the ambulance.

The driver who fell asleep, a 62-year-old University Place man, also was injured. He was taken to St. Francis Hospital.

A preliminary investigation found that the causing driver was headed south on I-5 in a silver Nissan 370 when he fell asleep, veered off the roadway to the right and crashed into the trooper's car. The force of the impact pushed the trooper's car into a blue Hyundai that he had pulled over.

"It was a very loud bang that almost felt like it lifted up the back of our car. We had no idea what it was. It surprised the heck out of us," said Thomas York, the driver the trooper had initially pulled over. "We were heading to the chiropractor. And we had just got through telling him how awesome our chiropractor was. And we really liked this police officer. We thought he was an awesome guy."

The driver who slammed into the back of the trooper's car could face charges for what happened, troopers said.

The crash is one of several collisions within the past month involving troopers who’ve been hit by drivers who failed to move over or slow down, Bova said. A crash on April 2 shut down traffic near Port of Tacoma Road for hours.

Troopers believe the crashes highlight the importance of the state’s Move Over Law, which forces drivers to move to another lane, if it’s safe, or slow down when they approach an emergency zone.

"Troopers talk, joke about… it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when," Bova said. "Because people just don’t slow down and they don’t move over when they see our lights on the side of the road."

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