Douglas County commissioner pleads to negligent driving in June DUI arrest

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Douglas County Commissioner Kyle Steinburg awaits his appearance on a DUI charge in East Wenatchee Municipal Court, Aug. 11 2021.

EAST WENATCHEE — Douglas County Commissioner Kyle Steinburg will serve no jail time after pleading guilty to negligent driving Wednesday in East Wenatchee Municipal Court, avoiding a trial on his original charge of DUI.

Municipal Judge Chancey Crowell gave the 41-year-old Republican a 90-day suspended sentence, plus a 24-month probationary period. Future DUI arrests or other transgressions in the next two years could mean some or all of the jail time is reimposed.

Steinburg, who’s serving his second term as a county commissioner, was arrested June 15 by East Wenatchee police after an altercation at a local McDonald’s. A breath test showed a blood alcohol level of 0.15, well over the legal limit, but his attorney John Brangwin said the test was improperly administered, and that Steinburg has an acid reflux condition that could have skewed the results.

“I had a very good case that those results were inaccurate, and should be excluded,” Brangwin told NCWLIFE outside court, after Steinburg entered his plea and paid a $500 fine plus roughly $700 in court costs and fees.

When East Wenatchee police stopped Steinburg’s car in the early morning of June 15, they were responding to a complaint that a driver was intoxicated in the McDonald’s drive-thru, and had insulted other customers before driving away. Jacobsen stopped Steinburg’s vehicle, with Steinburg carrying multiple passengers, about 1:37 a.m. The two breath samples he gave at the East Wenatchee Police Department recorded his blood alcohol content at 0.154 and 0.152, almost double the 0.08 legal limit. 

But East Wenatchee city attorneys agreed to the misdemeanor negligent driving charge after Brangwin said he could show East Wenatchee police had failed to properly check Steinburg’s mouth and observe him for 15 minutes prior and between the two breath samples needed to establish his blood alcohol level. Last month, Brangwin won a decision from the Washington Department of Licensing that the breath results could not be used to revoke Steinburg’s vehicle license.

In that administrative hearing, Steinburg testified that the breath test operator, Officer Ivy Jacobsen, “left the room more than once during the administration of the breath test,” according to DOL records that Brangwin provided to NCWLIFE. Jacobsen acknowledged leaving the room between performing the first and second mouth checks on Steinburg, to give Steinburg privacy so he could call Brangwin for legal counsel.

“I do note that there were some potential evidentiary issues,” Crowell said in Steinburg’s plea hearing.

Outside of court, Brangwin said Steinburg also has a diagnosed acid reflux condition that could have tainted the samples. But primarily, he said, DUI breath-test protocols put forward by the Washington State Patrol were not followed.

“Any failure to comply with the mouth check and the observation period renders those results completely unreliable,” Brangwin said. Steinburg did consume four alcoholic drinks that Monday night before his Tuesday morning arrest, but finished the last one at least two hours before the police encounter.

“It was my recommendation that Mr. Steinburg proceed to trial and fight this case,” Brangwin said. “Mr. Steinburg chose that he wanted to reach a quick resolution.”

Steinburg entered an Alford plea, allowing him to deny that he was driving while intoxicated, but agreeing that he could face conviction if the case went to trial. He left court without speaking to NCWLIFE.

Brangwin says his client has also undergone alcohol abuse evaluation, and a counseling class aimed at DUI offenders. Steinburg holds a pilot’s license and a commercial driver’s license as well as his motor vehicle license. A DUI conviction could have meant revocation of all of them.