State to pay $10 million to family for deadly 2012 tree-falling accident at Stevens Pass

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Tim and Cheryl Owen were killed when a tree fell on their SUV in December 2012.

SEATTLE — Family members who survived a deadly 2012 tree-falling accident on Stevens Pass that killed their parents reached a $10 million settlement with the state, according to their attorney.

In December 2012, Tim and Cheryl Owen were killed when a 125-foot tree came down on top of their SUV.

“I know we’ve been thinking a lot about my mom and dad lately, constantly on my mind,” said their daughter Jessica Owen.

Jessica, her brother Jeremy, her sister Jaime Mayer, and Jaime’s husband, Steven Mayer, were all in the backseat at the time of the accident. The family was traveling from Bothell to Leavenworth on U.S. 2.

Jessica, Jaime, and Steven all suffered permanent injuries. All three have difficulty walking.

The family believes the Washington State Department of Transportation ignored warnings about the snow causing trees to fall and didn’t act fast enough to close the highway.

"The question was: Was this an accident or was this something that was preventable," said the family's attorney, Karen Koehler.

Koehler said nearby local roads were closed because of the falling trees and weather conditions. The family believes it was the state’s responsibility to protect drivers.

"We are all in our twenties so I think about how many years with our parents did we lose, probably decades," said Jaime Mayer.

The WSDOT issued this statement:

“This was a tragic and serious incident for members of the Owen family and our thoughts remain with them. The state has entered into a negotiated settlement with the Owen family. The settlement will be funded from the state’s self-insured liability account.

"Safety is a top priority for WSDOT and we work to reduce the risk of roadway incidents by coordinating with the state patrol and other law enforcement partners when conditions affect travel.”

The medical bills for the family are in the millions of dollars, according to their attorney. The money will be used to cover the cost of care and any future expenses.

"It is nice to have a little bit of finality and closure," said Jessica Owen.

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6 comments

  • See it feel it

    This is ridiculous US2 is a scenic highway expect trees. If you don’t think the taxpayers are going to get stuck with the bill for the tunnel fiasco, guess again!

  • ABC

    There is nothing ridiculous about expecting the government, which has the legal responsibility and sole legal authority to close roads, to do so in dangerous conditions even when those conditions are caused by weather or other acts of God (avalanches, landslides, hundreds of falling trees, etc.), or at least warn of the danger. That didn’t happen here despite the government’s superior knowledge. Do you want the government to warn people of tsunamis so they can get off the coast and save their lives? Yes. Do you want the government to tell you and/or close the road if a forest fire started and it might burn you as you drive nearby? Yes. You expect negligent drivers on the roads every day when you drive. Does that mean you don’t hold them responsible? No.

    • Ryan

      People need to take more responsibility for their actions. Any time you drive in the snow you are putting yourself at risk; the roads are slick, visibility can be poor, you might hit black ice, trees become weighed down with snow. It’s always a risk that people choose to accept. What if there’s a low speed car accident on an icy road, maybe just slid into the guard rail? Should the Government be liable for paying for the repairs because they didn’t close the road?

      What are other things the Government should be responsible for? Bear attacks in state parks? Slipping off of a wet mountain trail while hiking in the rain? Trees falling during an earthquake? The Government can warn us and close roads, which they often do when there is a considerable risk from snow, but there’s a certain amount of responsibility you assume when you enter somewhere with dangerous or unknown conditions, including snowy mountain passes. And this is also why drivers are required to have their own insurance; in case of accidents.

      And do you know who paid for that settlement? Government money doesn’t just appear from nowhere, that insurance premium is paid for by hard earned tax payer dollars that could have been going to improve our schools, to help our injured veterans, or to cancer research. Instead, the premiums are going to increase and waste more tax dollars that could have been used to help those truly in need.

    • See it feel it

      @ABC – What did the State do that was negligent, take away their common sense?! Did your parent(s) sue the Government because they didn’t warn them their child was going to be an idiot?! Do you still have to hold someones hand when you cross the street?!

  • ABC

    What did the Owens do that was not responsible? They drove on a road in winter that was open. Despite those of you who say it was a known danger, none of you has produced any evidence that the Owens had any knowledge that there was a danger of trees falling onto SR 2. Why? Because the state didn’t bother to publicize it. This was not an unpredictable or one-off event, such as an earthquake, bear attack, or slipping off a hiking trail. This really is more like an avalanche or a fire, where the state has superior knowledge of the danger, its potential to grow, and has the power to protect us from that hazard. We should expect that power to be exercised to protect us. The family was crushed by a tree among hundreds that were falling onto roads and power lines, such that Chelan County issued an emergency declaration and closed its roads. Yet, SR 2 remained open in the same area. The State Patrol knew that trees were falling by the hundreds. Yet, the only sign on the road said nothing more than “Traction Tires Advised,” just as it does nearly every day of winter. What common sense did the family fail to exercise in light of the knowledge they were given? Perhaps the business owners in Leavenworth should have had the “common sense” to shut down their businesses and issue a press release; or everyone should have stayed away from the pass; but then the state should have shut down the highway to protect those who didn’t get the message — which is its duty under the law — to maintain safe roads for the public to travel on. Let’s say there’s a flood on a river. That doesn’t mean the bridge necessarily will wash out. But if the state has reason to believe it might — it is aware of loose pilings, or heavy debris striking them — don’t you think it should close the bridge before citizens cross it and it collapses into the water? Do we want the government to issue hurricane and tornado warnings? You can look outside and see bad weather, but that doesn’t mean you know everything. Common sense suggested that the SR 2 be closed. As for accepting risk, as I said before, the fact that risk exists does not justify the government’s failure to reduce it when it has superior knowledge and/or power to do so. There are many risks to getting in a car, but that does not mean we don’t expect safety measures to be taken. We punish drunk drivers and other traffic violations, have guardrails on mountain roads, life rafts on cruise ships, put kids on yellow school buses, etc. Moreover, just because you accept some risks does not mean you are aware of them all, or would accept them all if you had known. Moreover, the operative question is, should the state presume that you know or not? I would rather that the government act prudently to prevent harm rather than rely on a vague presumption that people might have full knowledge about a specific danger. And how dare anyone call the Owens family idiots without knowing them. The injured kids are highly educated – a teacher, a lawyer and a Microsoft employee. The parents were successful business people. They were not stupid. I can’t say the same for people who judge others without thinking carefully.