Danger unseen

Poor visibility for both walker, driver caused accident

By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Alcohol was not a factor in the July 4 accident when a Mercer Island police officer driving in his patrol car hit a pedestrian at a crosswalk. In its report released last week, the Washington State Patrol concluded that the glare of the setting sun temporarily obstructed police officer Chris DeChant’s vision when he struck 68-year-old Island resident John J. Barlas.

A breathalyzer given at the scene of the accident indicated DeChant was not under the influence of alcohol, Mercer Island Police Commander Leslie Burns said. A blood sample was also taken for toxicology tests, which could take months to be completed.

The accident occurred around 8:15 p.m. in the intersection of Island Crest Way and the westbound exit ramp off I-90. Barlas was crossing the street heading north while DeChant was heading west off the highway.

Barlas sustained a broken right leg, facial lacerations and internal injuries. He was also knocked unconscious from the collision. He was knocked 21 feet from the impact in front of the patrol car.

According to the report, Barlas was dressed in a white T-shirt, black shorts, with white socks and tennis shoes. Officer DeChant had just left the police station after he checked in for an overtime night shift. DeChant was scheduled to be on bicycle patrol because of the Fourth of July festivities, Burns said.

While he was exiting the freeway, officer DeChant’s sight was impeded by a setting sun, vegetation and a concrete wall, the report concluded.

“DeChant stated that he observed his light was still green and proceeded through the intersection. He was looking downward because the glare of the sun was so bright. Officer DeChant said the next thing he saw was Mr. Barlas in front of his vehicle. He described it as though Mr. Barlas had just appeared in front of him all of a sudden. He stated he applied the brakes immediately and came to a stop.”

There were no witnesses to the collision but a week later a resident who drove off I-90 15 minutes after the accident called the police to report the troublesome sun glare.

“[The caller] stated he had his visor down and his hand up to block the sun and could still barley make out the officer in the intersection providing traffic control,” the report stated.

According to the report, DOT officials stated the traffic light is set to be green for westbound traffic until cross traffic arrives. There is also a pedestrian crosswalk button to change the light. The state patrol report stated the lights were working properly after the accident.

Another MIPD officer drove through the intersection the following day at the same time and filmed it. The tape, according to the report, showed glare from the sun, which blocked the view of the crosswalk and reflected off the roadway.

DeChant was assigned to the state’s fight against methamphetamines in 2005. He represents the Washington Council of Police on the attorney generals Allied Against Meth Task Force.

In June 2006 he stopped a vehicle on Mercer Island and made a significant mail theft bust, discovering 75 pieces of stolen mail that included personal financial and identity information and a set of shaved keys.

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