By Pat Jenkins
Daniel Morse was a 14-year-old Bethel Junior High School student when he was hit and killed by a drunk driver four years ago. Last weekend, his family and authorities made certain that his death remains a reminder for the public of the potentially fatal consequences of impaired driving.
Two memorial signs for Morse were placed Friday afternoon at a Graham roadside near where he died. And the next night, memories and relatives of the boy were part of a DUI emphasis patrol by police in the eastern portions of Pierce County.
A brief ceremony for the unveiling of the signs was held by the Tacoma-Pierce County DUI Victim’s Panel in the 9800 block of 204th Street East. That’s where Morse was riding the skateboard he’d received for Christmas when he was struck by an automobile at dusk on Dec. 27, 2009. According to authorities, he was on the side of the road when the accident occurred.
Authorities said the car was driven by Darrell Andrew Ross, who was over the legal blood alcohol limit of .08 and didn’t have the car’s headlights on when it swerved and slammed into Morse. Ross, who admitted to the crime, was convicted and served one year and 11 months in prison.
“We usually install one memorial sign in memory of victims, but we are installing two in this case,” said Sharon Reynon of Victims Panel. “This is to doubly remind motorists of the toll impaired driving can take on families.”
Daniel Morse’s death was the second DUI-related tragedy for his family. Officials said his older brother, Christopher, was driving home from his job at a pizza parlor in 2003 near San Diego, Calif. when he was killed in a crash involving another driver suspected of being under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.
The family joined last Saturday with the Tacoma-Pierce County DUI and Traffic Safety Task Force in delivering a message that all impaired-driving accidents are preventable. The task force conducted one of its monthly DUI patrols that night, with at least 25 State Patrol troopers and local police officers watching for potentially drunk motorists. Two of Morse’s brothers planned to ride along with Pierce County Sheriff Department deputies and accompany them to any bars where suspected drunk drivers said they’d been drinking. Anyone who officers pulled over were given memorial flyers about Daniel.
Sheriff Department Sgt. Jason Harms, who coordinated the patrol, said last week that he expected there would be more than the usual number of arrests Saturday night because the task force planned to use the State Patrol’s Mobile Impaired Driving Unit (MIDU). The 36-foot motor home is equipped with three breath-test instruments and two holding cells. Officers use it to drop off arrested motorists for processing at jails or police stations, and then get back on patrol in minutes.
Troopers manning the MIDU Saturday night planned to request blood warrants whenever arrested drivers showed signs of impairment but hadn’t been drinking. Once warrants are obtained in such cases, phlebotomists riding in the MIDU draw blood samples to test for drugs that might be impairing drivers, officials said.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said the task force is determined “to remove every alcohol or drug-impaired driver from the road” in the hope of preventing DUI-related deaths or injuries.
The Eatonville Police Department is among police agencies countywide that are part of the task force, which is also affiliated with the county’s chemical dependency program.
In addition to emphasis patrols, the task force makes anti-DUI presentations at community and regional events, including the Washington State Fair in Puyallup.