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Steer clear this New Year's

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | December 31, 2020 1:09 AM

Local law enforcement officials have expressed concerns that one of the most dangerous driving evenings of the year — New Year’s Eve — will be fraught with perilous conditions in the midst of Wednesday’s snowstorm.

“It’s been a busy, busy morning,” Lt. Chris Schenck of the Idaho State Police said Wednesday. “We’re working a pretty major crash at the Rose Lake junction right now. That’s taking some time.”

That crash — in which a semi-truck blocked both lanes of westbound traffic headed toward Fourth Of July Pass Wednesday morning — was by no means the first or last accident ISP attended to in the early hours of a daylong snowstorm that is expected to drop as much as 8 inches of snow on Kootenai County’s flatlands by this morning.

The National Weather Service is predicting snow to accumulate into today's noon hour and periodically continue through Saturday, and with temperatures expected to hover just above freezing, Schenck said he expects slide-offs and accidents to continue well into the new year and urged drivers to avoid going out.

“We’re expecting it to be a series after series of storms,” he said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Lt. Ryan Higgins of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, who said KCSO handled about 15 calls in the first few hours of Wednesday’s storm.

“We had a pretty big stretch of crashes on Prairie (Avenue), down by McGuire Road in Post Falls this morning,” Higgins said. “We had three or four at roughly the same time.”

Higgins said the first salvo of crashes was likely a sign of things to come heading into the holiday weekend, with the weather making driving conditions challenging under normal circumstances.

“The road conditions are going to be horrible for the next several days,” he said.

Both Higgins and Schenck said the best way to celebrate the new year is to do it responsibly and, if possible, from home.

“We want to come into 2021 in a better condition than how we’re leaving 2020,” Higgins said.

Ironically, the more palpable urge to celebrate the new year is because the old year has given locals fewer opportunities to celebrate. With COVID-19 health protocols curtailing and canceling many traditional festivities, fewer events remain available on the calendar.

A popular mainstay, the fireworks show along the lake, has been promised to continue, with viewing available from the beach. The Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises’ New Year's Eve midnight cruises are sold out, though a few tickets remain for the earlier family cruises. Likewise, the grand dinner at The Coeur d’Alene Resort reduced the number of available seats in order to accommodate health protocols, forcing the event to sell out.

Bars, in accordance with Gov. Brad Little’s Idaho Rebounds plan, are allowed to remain open, provided they meet certain health protocols. Many bars in the area will remain open through New Year’s Eve and into the new year, though celebrating in the age of COVID might look a little different: With social distancing guidelines, seating-only requirements, mask mandates and gathering restrictions, the typical New Year’s Eve might feel foreign. The Iron Horse on Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene, for example, will have stereo music playing and will be open to celebrate.

Curley’s at Hauser Junction will hold a New Year’s Eve bash, as well, complete with a champagne toast and glow sticks to celebrate the new year. The band Dragonfly will play, as well. Tanya Murray, owner of Curley’s, said the glow party was her way of kicking off the new year right.

“We’re going to have a few glow sticks, but we encourage you to bring your own,” Murray said. “I’ll have a few glow sticks for people. I just thought: 2020’s been a pretty crappy year. So why not ring in the new year with a bright spot?”

Curley’s has 10 available tables of eight ready for reservation. Murray said that, come 8 p.m., staff will start letting the general public in for a $5 cover charge … until, that is, Curley’s hits capacity.

The Snake Pit on Coeur d'Alene River Road is having live music from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, with Carli Osika, to celebrate the new year.

Law enforcement will step up patrols across the county as part of its DUI task force, which incorporates all local entities for inter-jurisdictional support.

“We don’t want to arrest people for driving under the influence if we don’t have to,” Schenck said. “We don’t want to respond to car crashes if we don’t have to. If you don’t have to go out, please consider staying home to celebrate this year.”

photo

BILL BULEY/Press

Snow falls as shoppers walk on Sherman Avenue Wednesday afternoon.