EVERETT — Driving while possibly high on pot, and distracted with two young children fussing in the back of her SUV — that’s how police described the situation of Heather Lee, 26, of Granite Falls, who is accused of causing a crash that injured nine people east of Monroe Monday night.
The five-vehicle accident occurred on U.S. Route 2, which many in Snohomish County call “the highway of death.”
Lee was visibly emotional in court, crying during the hearing.
Lee is also injured: One of her legs is in a cast and she’s in a wheelchair.
Now she could face vehicular assault charges.
The accident sent nine people to the hospital, including a 10-year-old boy with skull fractures.
Police records say Lee turned her head when her two young children, reported to be ages 5 and 1, started fighting in the back seat of her SUV, but when she turned back it was too late.
Cars were stopped in front of her. She swerved to miss them, but sideswiped one and crashed head-on into oncoming traffic.
The Washington State Patrol said a trooper found a marijuana pipe in her SUV and she allegedly told the trooper that she had smoked “a bowl” earlier in the day. She also allegedly said she was distracted by her two kids in the back seat.
Valerie Ballard got caught up in the chain reaction crash but wasn’t hurt. Ballard said it’s time for the highway to get a major overhaul.
“It needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed now,” said Ballard.
Fred Walser, a former police chief and chairman of the U.S. 2 Safety Coalition, agreed that the busy two-lane highway is dangerous.
Walser said 94 people have died in crashes on the highway since 1990. He said too many of them are caused by distracted or impaired drivers.
“You literally take your life into your hands,” said Walser.
Walser wants the Washington State Department of Transportation to install a cable barrier along the center of the highway to prevent head-on crashes, but the state says that could cost up to $300 million for just a few miles.
The state has installed rumble strips and left-turn lanes near Monroe, and they say those measures have drastically reduced collisions.
But officials say there just isn’t the money to fix everything. Walser thinks they should find it.
“What’s the priority, is it saving lives or is it building a hole in the ground in Seattle?” asked Walser, alluding to the tunnel being built along Seattle’s waterfront to replace the aging, elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Lee is being held in the Snohomish County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.
Cops got a warrant to obtain a sample of her blood, but finding out what exactly was in her system at the time could take weeks.