Trooper's chase of 100-mph speeder true to form for freeway


The Mirror

A State Patrol trooper was talking Monday morning after he was critically injured a day earlier while pursuing a speeding car near Federal Way.

Michael Qunell, 31, had been working as a trooper since March when his cruiser went off Interstate 5 near South 272nd Street on Sunday afternoon. It cleared most of a ditch and smashed squarely into a tree, authorities said.

Although the airbags in the car activated and Qunell was wearing his seatbelt, he was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment of a subdural hematoma, lacerated lung and crushed hip. Doctors had to perform surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, according to Kelly Spangler, a spokeswoman for the State Patrol.

Qunell was still listed in critical condition Monday morning, Spangler said, adding relatives were with him at the hospital.

State Patrol investigators are still reconstructing the accident and looking for the car, a silver Mercedes, that Qunell was chasing when he lost control of his patrol car. They are also interested in talking to anyone who saw the accident.

Witnesses told troopers another vehicle pulled into Qunell’s path and he swerved to avoid it. Spangler said that car hasn’t been found, nor has it been determined if it was a factor in the accident.

At about 2:50 p.m. Sunday, Qunell was working a speed enforcement detail near South 320th Street on northbound I-5 in Federal Way. He radioed that a silver Mercedes was traveling 100 miles per hour and he was following it. Spangler said Qunell didn’t report a license plate number or description of the driver. At about South 272nd, the chase ended when Qunell’s car went off the road.

That stretch of I-5 is known to state troopers as an area where drivers typically step on the gas and travel much faster than the speed limit. The southbound lanes near the former Midway landfill site –– and close to the accident scene –– is part of Washington’s “100-plus MPH Club,” according to the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

Sensors have been placed in areas along the state’s highways to measure, among other things, traffic speed. A quarterly report from DOT lists the Midway area of I-5 as No. 7 on the fastest-speeds roster. King County has two other areas on the list.

Troopers use the data to target specific stretches of highways for speed enforcement. Qunell was one of several troopers in the I-5 area focused on catching speeders last weekend.

Spangler said drivers go 100 in the Midway section of I-5 because the roadway is straight and it’s easy to see far ahead.

People who have information about the accident involving Qunell are being asked by the State Patrol to call detective Gerry Kooper at (360) 805-1192.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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