By BRIAN WALKER
COEUR d'ALENE — What do the Pink Panther, naked people, folks peeing on themselves and even a public official or two have in common?
All have been arrested for DUI in Kootenai County in recent months.
The nonprofit Kootenai County Substance Abuse Council on Wednesday honored local law enforcement agencies' top DUI busters of 2017.
Those recognized said they've learned to expect the unexpected when they approach or investigate a driver pulled over for weaving, suspicious behaviors or traffic infractions.
They've seen it all (if not, a lot) ranging from those in costumes to unclothed and from wanted felons to public officials during DUI stops.
"I didn't realize I had arrested a public official until I saw it in (The Press)," said Rathdrum Police's Scott Kennedy, one of seven responders honored. "I thought I was just going to be assisting another motorist stuck in a snow bank until I smelled alcohol."
Kennedy said the most common testimony of drivers under the influence — a standing joke among officers — is, "I only had two beers."
Makayla Desjarlais, Post Falls Police's honoree, said she's pulled over drivers who are either overflowing with alcohol, or they're extremely nervous.
"They can't use a restroom, so they just let go," she said.
Troy Tulleners, who was Idaho State Police's honoree with Jonathan Cushman, said he recalls a stop due to a rear bumper dragging on Interstate 90 and barely attached to the vehicle.
"It was banging and making a noise, but obviously he had no idea," Tulleners said.
Tammy Rubino, the council's executive director, said those on patrol who do an outstanding job netting DUI suspects need to be honored because alcohol and drugs on the road can be deadly.
"We know it's time-consuming and something you can brush off if there are more important things, so we appreciate what you do for us," Rubino told the officers, adding that their enforcement supports the council's mission of educating about the dangers of DUI with events such as mock crashes.
Tulleners said the time from when a driver is pulled over to booked into jail can easily take two hours and writing the report can be a minimum of another hour.
Officers said they know tragic stories, some on a personal level, of how DUI crashes can change lives in an instant, so they take such crime seriously.
"When you stay busy and proactive, you find them," Desjarlais said. "I had an aunt who was killed by a drunk driver, so there's a personal side for me."
Tulleners said it used to be around holidays such as New Year's Eve when DUIs would tend to spike, but the peaks can be throughout the year from summer to winter.
"There's not a lot to do around here in the winter, so what does that leave?" he said. "And, in the summer, a lot of people from out of town are visiting. A couple weeks ago, we had nine DUIs in two nights and the next weekend there may not be any. It's just where you are and where they are driving."
Other responders honored included: Jacob Proctor, Coeur d'Alene Police; Brice LaBelle, Kootenai County Sheriff's Office; and Travis Bucher, Coeur d'Alene Tribe.
Total DUI arrests last year, including both alcohol and drug cases, by agencies that were recognized at the ceremony were: ISP, 420; Coeur d'Alene, 391; Kootenai County, 329; Post Falls, 132; Coeur d'Alene Tribe, 41; and Rathdrum, 34.
The total arrests countywide increased 13 percent last year to 1,348 from 1,189 in 2016.
"This is especially exciting for me because I am an instructor on DUIs," said ISP Sgt. Jonelle Greear, her agency's representative on the council board. "I see some of my students here, which makes me feel good. It's important to get drunk drivers off the road."
Rubino said she believes strides are being made on the dangers of DUI.
"There's more of a stigma attached because of the education," she said. "It's not something to joke about anymore."