Edmonds intersection can be a paperwork headache after a fender bender

EDMONDS — It could be the most confusing place to crash your car in Snohomish County.

The intersection of Highway 99 and 220th Street SW in Edmonds is a messy patchwork of police jurisdiction. One of the busiest in south county, the corner lies along a major thoroughfare between I-5 and downtown Edmonds.

The intersection sees its fair share of crashes, Edmonds police officer Steve Harbinson said. He specializes in collision reconstruction. He also gets called out to any serious crash there, no matter the hour.

Accident victims will get immediate aid regardless of jurisdiction, Harbinson said. Whatever cop gets there fastest can check for injuries and control traffic.

The trouble comes when it’s time to figure out which police agency writes the report.

“It’s very messy,” Harbinson said. “You basically break out a map book and try to figure out whose jurisdiction it is.”

If you get into a fender-bender at the corner, the investigating agency could be Edmonds police, the Washington State Patrol or the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. Annexations over the years have parceled out some parts but not others.

To make it even more confusing, the intersection splits along boundary lines for traffic courts. That means cops must be careful to write citations for the correct court, lest the infraction get thrown out.

Some police say the boundaries are clear, and no issues arise. Others say the corner is a source of unnecessary confusion in the streets.

Trying to figure it all out will make your brain hurt.

Looking south, the trouble starts as Lynnwood turns into Edmonds.

Lynnwood police work both sides of the highway until the Snohomish County Public Utility District building, police spokeswoman Shannon Sessions said. They also take the east side of the highway about six more blocks south.

South of the Lynnwood city line, Edmonds has the southbound lanes until the intersection of Highway 99 and 220th Street SW, Edmonds police Sgt. Don Anderson said.

That leaves the highway’s northbound lanes unspoken for between the intersection and Lynnwood. Who is responsible for that stretch depends on whom you ask.

The intersection itself is a hodgepodge of city boundaries. To add to the confusion, parts of the southwest corner may lie in the Esperance neighborhood, an unincorporated pocket that pushes up against Edmonds.

Unincorporated areas are in the sheriff’s jurisdiction, spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.

Mountlake Terrace police claim the Red Dragon Casino and its parking lot at the intersection’s northeast corner, but none of the roadway, Cmdr. Doug Hansen said.

Confused yet? Harbinson says the corner at 220th Street SW and Highway 99 actually isn’t the most confusing in Edmonds. That distinction belongs to an intersection about two miles away, at 76th Avenue W. and Highway 104. That corner straddles the line between Snohomish and King counties. The counties have separate police dispatch systems, as does the Washington State Patrol. Communication can get dicey, especially in fast-moving pursuits.

When it comes to accidents at Highway 99 and 220th Street SW, Harbinson often just starts writing up the report, he said. People in car crashes get grumpy if they have to wait a half hour for the right agency to show up.

Nine times out of 10, the police agencies work together at the scene to figure it out, he said. Their shared understanding of the boundary lines has improved over the past five to 10 years.

Still, the corner is no stranger to arguments over jurisdiction. Heated exchanges sometimes toast police scanners late at night. The stakes are higher when the crash is fatal, could lead to felony charges or could trigger lawsuits.

Who is responsible for investigating often comes down to a matter of inches, Harbinson said. It usually depends on the causing driver and where his or her wheels were before and after the mishap.

“It’s just easier for me to do the paper half the time,” Harbinson said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Intersection safety advice

If you travel through the intersection at Highway 99 and 220th Street SW in south Snohomish County on a regular basis, you’re better off stopping at the yellow light.

Speeding up for a yellow light is illegal, even if you’re under the speed limit.

Be extra careful there when the light is changing. Those who run a red light by a second or two can be struck by someone with a green light on the other side.

If you get in a fender bender there, call the police and let them sort it out. If there’s any debate over who caused the accident, don’t move the cars until police say it’s OK. An officer can make sure the other driver doesn’t give you bogus info or land you in a troublesome insurance claim.

Source: Edmonds police officer Steve Harbinson

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