Washington State Patrol Trooper Chris Caiola and his K9 partner, Buster, survived a traffic accident Monday night when a driver suspected of being impaired struck Caiola's patrol car on I-5 in Lynnwood.

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State Patrol Trooper Chris Caiola and his trusty sidekick, Buster, have worked side by side for more than two years, but their partnership almost ended in tragedy when a car struck Caiola’s patrol car on Interstate 5.

Caiola and Buster, a black Lab and Springer Spaniel mix, were near the end of their nightly patrol just before 11 p. m. Monday when Caiola pulled over a car for a broken taillight on southbound I-5 in Lynnwood and heard what he thought was an explosion.

Glass shattered, metal crunched and his car shook.

“It was deafening,” Caiola said. “It took me a moment to know I was hit.”

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The State Patrol said that a 19-year-old woman, believed to be driving under the influence, swerved toward the shoulder and smashed into Caiola’s parked car, which was thrust against the guardrail. Caiola, a narcotics-K9 handler, and Buster were trapped in the patrol car.

“Everything was in slow motion,” Caiola said. “I was more scared than I have ever been as a cop.”

The force of the collision knocked out the car’s electrical system, including the microphone. The portable radio, which was off, was thrown out of Caiola’s reach.

A witness called 911. Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies responded and pried Caiola out of the vehicle.

Caiola was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he was treated for a few bumps and bruises and released.

The driver of the other car and her three passengers did not suffer serious injuries, the State Patrol says.

Buster is also doing fine, said Caiola, though he is a little rattled from the accident.

“After the crash I didn’t hear him and I thought something had happened,” a teary-eyed Caiola said during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Buster wagged his tail and pranced at Caiola’s feet as the trooper spoke to reporters.

“We were so lucky to walk away from that,” Caiola said.

Since 2006, there have been 95 accidents involving vehicles striking State Patrol vehicles parked along streets and highways, according to Keith Leary, public-information officer for the Patrol. There have been eight such collisions this year, he said.

The driver of the car that struck Caiola was booked into the Snohomish County Jail for investigation of three counts of reckless endangerment and one of driving under the influence.

Caiola, who has been with the State Patrol for about 12 ½ years and a K9 officer for seven, is taking some time off before returning to his routine patrol. When he does, Buster will be there as well.

“I love him,” said Caiola, throwing a stick as Buster pranced after it, ears flapping. “He’s part of our family. It’s like having your pet and your partner together.”

Amy Harris: 206-464-2212 or aharris@seattletimes.com

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