Highways so dangerous, officers would "rather respond to gun calls"

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) Law enforcement officers say the crash and injuries sustained by Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officer Brian Murphy when a suspected drunk driving hit him is a big fear for a lot of them.

Prosecutors say Kalin McGuire was drunk and hit Murphy around 11:30 Saturday night while he was picking up traffic cones near a car fire on Interstate 41.

Ashwaubenon Public Safety says Murphy is in critical condition after undergoing two surgeries.

Many officers we talked to say they, too, have nearly been hit on the road during calls.

We searched through Department of Transportation records and found more than 1,000 people were injured in OWI crashes on interstates and highways across Wisconsin last year.

While the stats don't tell the whole story, investigators say this weekend's crash shows the number of drunk driving offenses causing those injuries doesn't matter.

Brown County Sheriff's investigators say Kalin McGuire had a clean driving record and no prior OWIs.

"You have our repeat offenders that people say are the most dangerous out there. This is a perfect example that shows you... it doesn't matter who you are or if it's your first time or not, you're just as dangerous as a repeat offender as you are a first time offender," says Brown County Sheriff's Captain Dan Sandberg.

Court records show McGuire had three or four vodka drinks at a wedding reception before the crash. Her preliminary blood alcohol levels registered at .125, according to court records.

"Their abilities are diminished and they're reduced and they're not as good a driver, and that's why we have a .08," says Sandberg, referring to the state's legal driving limit. "If they're a .20 versus a .10, it doesn't matter. They're both drunk, and they're not able to drive that vehicle safely."

Sandberg says most officers who respond to calls on highways continually think about distracted or drunk drivers.

"Guys almost jokingly say I'd rather go to a gun call than go up on (Highway) 172 in the middle of the winter for a crash or something, because it's so dangerous on those roadways," he says.

In December, a Brown County Sheriff's deputy was injured trying to help a stranded motorist when a distracted driver hit a tow truck and her squad, pinning her underneath.

"It's these minor calls, and they're not minor calls. They're all dangerous when you're up there on the highway. They're all dangerous," says Sandberg.

DOT stats put that into perspective.

Preliminary numbers from 2016 show 2,107 people were hurt in OWI crashes statewide.

About half, or 1,032 of those injuries, happened on highways or interstates.

In Brown County alone, 32 people were injured on those kinds of roadways in that one year.

"That officer is going to be impacted now for the rest of his life because he was just out trying to do his job, and again, we have another drunk driver out on the road that shouldn't be out there, impacting somebody else's life forever," adds Sandberg.