One drunken snowmobiler raced past deputies at 90 mph. He was captured only after smashing into a snowbank.
So far this winter, six snowmobilers have crashed into cars while driving illegally on Bonner County roads, said sheriff’s Cpl. Larry Schulze.
And in Kootenai County, some families have stopped snowmobiling on certain nights, fearing reckless and drunken drivers will run them off the crowded trails.
As North Idaho continues to grow as a snowmobiling mecca, so do the problems that go along with the sport. Starting tonight, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department and Idaho State Police will start special patrols at trail heads looking for drunken snowmobilers.
They are doing so at the request of other snowmobilers who want to keep their sport safe and family-oriented.
Meanwhile, North Idaho officers are calling for stricter penalties for snowmobile offenses.
“You could be riding a snowmobile drunk on a public roadway at 90 mph and it would only be an infraction,” said an exasperated Schulze.
That means that if an officer catches a drunken snowmobiler, he can do little more than hand the driver a ticket and send him on his way.
“I would just like them to put more teeth in the law,” said Kootenai County deputy Andy Boyle.
“It’s a very few individuals creating a problem for all of us,” said Al Beauchene of the Coeur d’Alene Snowmobile Club. “We have 104 members in the club, and I don’t know that any drink and ride.”
Beauchene has been snowmobiling in North Idaho for 20 years and estimates that the number of riders using the trails has doubled in only the past five years.
One Kootenai County trail drew more than 1,100 users in a day, said Skip Bonasera, a member of the Kootenai County snowmobile groomer advisory board.
In Bonner County, deputies on snowmobile patrol have checked registrations of up to 1,000 sleds in a weekend.
Wednesday nights are an especially busy snowmobile time in Kootenai County, with one lodge offering a spaghetti feed and another offering a buffet, Bonasera said.
Beauchene and other snowmobilers have talked to Kootenai County Sheriff Pierce Clegg about the problems they have observed with drinking and reckless driving on those nights.
“I personally have hesitated because of the fast riding, too many people and alcohol that is involved,” he said.
Sheriff’s officials decided to patrol the trail heads on Wednesdays because they are concerned that snowmobilers are not only driving their sleds drunk but are then getting into their trucks and driving home.
They say that alcohol is a contributing factor in the majority of snowmobile accidents.
On Jan. 20, the Bonner County deputies caught their drunken snowmobiler after he rammed into a snowbank.
When they measured his blood alcohol level it was almost twice the legal limit to be driving a motor vehicle, Schulze said.
Even at that, they would not have been able to arrest the snowmobiler - until he tried to attack one of the deputies.
Bonner County officials are also having a difficult time keeping some snowmobilers off the roadways - sober or not.
So far this year they have cited between 25 and 30 riders for traveling illegally on the roads, Schulze said.
One man broke his neck running into a car, Schulze said.
As with drunken snowmobiling the offense is only a $126 ticket.
“There’s just not enough bite in the law,” Schulze said.
In Wallace the city allows snowmobilers to drive on the roads to and from the trails. However, the city has passed an ordinance that anyone caught driving a snowmobile drunk is subject to arrest.
So far this year, they haven’t had to arrest anyone.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LYING IN WAIT Starting tonight, the Sheriff’s Department and Idaho State Police will start special patrols at trail heads looking for drunken snowmobilers.