Story Summary

Suspected DUI accidents

In 2012, 38,000 people were arrested for driving impaired, according to the Washington Department of Transportation. In 2011, there were more than 6,000 DUI-related crashes.  Of all the fatal accidents in Washington, more than one-third involved alcohol.

Within a 10-day period in 2013 (from March 25 until April 3), three people in the Seattle area were killed in two separate accidents by suspected drunken drivers. The incidents led to calls for tougher DUI legislation.

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SEATTLE — At first glance, Dawn Vrentas looks like an outdoorsy, all-American girl.  But the 31-year-old has quite a criminal past.

dawn1In 2000, Vrentas got her first DUI at only 18 years old. Four years later, drunk again, two of her friends were killed when Vrentas crashed her car into a pond.  She was sentenced to five and a half years in prison, but got out in 2007.

Then, last Saturday, state troopers pulled her over on I-5 near Northgate for speeding. In court documents filed Wednesday, the trooper said Vrentas appeared to be impaired at the time, allegations she denied. Vrentas was also charged Wednesday with felony DUI. Bail of $750,000 was requested and that she participate in 24/7 alcohol monitoring.

“You would think there would be a natural thought process of not doing something like this again, but that’s the power of addiction,” said Crisis Clinic Director Michael Reading.

As we’ve seen time and time again, even prison isn’t enough to convince some drunken drivers to change their ways.

“There is an underlying problem and it’s the drinking problem, so we are now fashioning our laws to go after that,” state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said.

Goodman was a sponsor of new DUI legislation this year that targets repeat offenders.

“We are now going to be requiring an assessment and evaluation for alcohol dependency and other drugs as well. The judges will be required to order treatment,” Goodman said.

Repeat offenders could also be required to either wear an alcohol-detection bracelet or use a handheld breathalyzer to make sure they aren’t drinking.

“We hate to see people that young have a problem but with our new law I hope we can address it and maybe she has a better life ahead of her, but she has to be held accountable for what she’s done,” Goodman said.

The new provisions of the DUI bill go into effect in late September.

For more information on how to get help for someone suffering from substance abuse, you can call the Washington Recovery Help Line at 1-866-789-1511 or click here.

SEATTLE — A man who had gotten drunk, drove the wrong way on the SR 520 Bridge and plowed head-on into another car, killing the driver, tearfully apologized Friday before he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

wrongwayMichael Robertson, 25, had pleaded guilty to the DUI vehicular homicide charge.

He was drunk and driving the wrong way on the SR 520 Bridge in April when he slammed head-on into another car, killing Morgan Williams, 58.

Robertson, who was still in a wheelchair from the accident, cried throughout his sentencing hearing Friday and apologized to the victim’s friends and family.

But Williams’ life partner, Jerry Esterly, told Robertson, “I generally start to cry at 3:30 in the afternoon when she’d come home from work, and the dog waits by the door. I cry and then nighttime comes and that’s when things get kind of tough.”

Last year, a new law was enacted that doubled the standard range for vehicular homicide, making it equal to manslaughter.  That added two years to Robertson’s sentence.

auburncrashKENT — A 29-year-old Auburn man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges stemming from a July 5 traffic crash that killed a cab driver in Auburn, the Seattle Times reported.

Floyd D. Gonzales, who is being held in the King County Jail on $1 million bail, pleaded not guilty to vehicular homicide, hit and run and felony reckless endangerment, the paper said.

He is accused of running a red light and slamming into the side of a cab driven by Brian Love, 56, who died at the scene.

TACOMA — At the Washington State Patrol’s Tacoma headquarters, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a new DUI bill into law Thursday morning alongside legislators, law enforcement and victim’s family members.

DUI-DefenseSenate Bill 5912 cracks down on repeat DUI offenders in a number of ways: A second offense will land drunken drivers in jail until they see a judge, and repeat offenders will have an ignition interlock device installed on their cars within five days of arrest.

The new law also tries to address a root cause of our DUI crisis — problem drinking. Washington is the fourth state to require 24-7 sobriety monitoring for repeat offenders; North and South Dakota and Montana have similar laws in place.

“You will have to wear either a bracelet or a different type of technology that shows you are not drinking. If you drink you will go to jail for six months,” Inslee said.

There are also stronger penalties for driving the wrong way while impaired or having children under the age of 16 in the car.

Dan Schulte’s parents were killed and his wife and infant son severely injured this spring when a repeat DUI offender hit them down as they crossed the street in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood.

Schulte’s primary focus is making sure his son and wife get better, but he is also passionate about keeping drunken drivers off the road.

“If I can somehow take what happened to my family and use it in a positive way, I hope to do that,” he said.

The bill officially becomes law Sept. 27 — 90 days after the end of the Legislature’s special session.

auburncrashAUBURN — Police say the driver involved in the crash that killed a taxi driver in Auburn had been drinking.

Floyd Duane Gonzales, 29, was being held in King County Jail on $1 million bail. He is being investigated for vehicular homicide and felony hit-and-run.

“We believe he had sufficient alcohol for impairment,” said Auburn police Cmdr. Mike Hirman.

Brian Love, 56, was killed when a white SUV ran a red light and barreled into his cab early last Friday morning.  He was just getting off his shift.

Police say Gonzalez took off running and was caught a block away.

WALK1191_01AUBURN — As people went about their business in downtown auburn Friday morning, some of them witnessed an unexpected tragedy when a cab was struck and an SUV flipped upside down in the middle of the intersection at East Main Street and Auburn Way.

Cab driver Brian Love, 56, was killed instantly after he was struck broadside by the SUV just before 6 a.m.  Police said the SUV driver ran a red light at high speed, slammed into the cab, flipped his vehicle and then tried to flee the scene, leaving his injured female passenger behind.

“We have detained the driver of the vehicle and obtained search warrants for some additional evidence from him. From what we can tell so far, there is possible impairment,” Auburn assistant police chief Bill Pierson said.

Vince Cuddy owns Tim’s Taxi Company and said Love was on his way to drop off his cab when the crash happened.

“Brian used to be a DJ in Enumclaw, he peddled ice cream. He owned the pizza place here before it got torn down and then he became a taxi driver, and he really enjoyed his job,” Cuddy said.

The SUV driver and female passenger are in their 20s. They are at Auburn General Hospital with minor injuries. The driver is facing vehicular homicide and reckless driving charges.

BELLINGHAM — This is how it all ended, in the Larkin Place Apartments’ parking lot. Five cars were damaged, including a red Pontiac driven by a 14-year-old boy.

14 year old DUI“Hit a Honda Civic first, then hit a Nissan Altima, which pushed it into a Honda Accord, which were owned by the same owner … pinballed off of that one, traveled 50, 75 feet and hit a Buick Enclave SUV,” Washington State Patrol trooper Keith Leary said.

That Buick belongs to Patrick McCrystal.

He just finished moving into his apartment on Monday and now has to deal with this.

“I’m from Ohio and so my insurance company is from Ohio and they have to find someone that they know out here and it might be a little difficult,” McCrystal said.

A trooper first spotted the boy at 6:40 a.m. Wednesday on Guide Meridian near Bellis Fair Mall. He knew right away something was wrong.

“He sees this car with lane travel violations, swerving back and forth,” Leary said. “It’s a 50 mph zone there and the car was only doing about 30 mph.”

When the trooper turned on flashing lights, he said, the boy sped up.

The chase lasted less than a mile and ended at Larkin Place.

The commotion woke Mitchell Wilkerson from a sound sleep.

“I saw a state trooper holding four kids at gunpoint,” Wilkerson said.

The 14-year-old driver, two 12-year-old boys, a 15-year-old boy and a 53-year-old man were in the car, according to investigators, and all in varying stages of inebriation.

“If they were here two hours later, they could have killed somebody because the kids come out and walk on the streets and we had a lemonade stand, local kids were having a lemonade stand.  If they had taken a right instead of a left, they could have just killed all four of them,” Wilkerson said.

Two of the boys were taken to the hospital for alcohol observation and police are still trying to determine who the man is and why he was in the car.

Just a few of the questions that have to be answered in this investigation:

“How they got access to the keys to the vehicle.?Where the alcohol came from? Where they were consuming that at?  Those are all things we’ll be looking at,” Leary said.

The good news is no one was hurt.

“We tell adults not to get behind the wheel if you’ve had anything to drink.  It’s the safest thing, and now we have a 14-year-old who has no experience, has drank alcohol, is possibly impaired, driving a motor vehicle and runs from the police.  That’s a recipe for disaster,” Leary said.

Investigators said the boy took the car he was driving from his grandmother without her permission.

He’s expected to face charges for that, for DUI and for eluding police.

As for the man, he claims to be an uncle.

Investigators will check on that and whether he provided the alcohol to the boys.

If so, he could face charges as well.

Local News

14-year-old boy arrested for suspicion of DUI

14 year old DUIBELLINGHAM — The Washington State Patrol arrested a 14-year-old boy Wednesday morning for suspicion of driving under the influence.

The trooper first noticed the car weaving and driving about 20 mph under the speed limit at about 6:40 a.m..

When the trooper turned on his lights, the boy allegedly sped off and, after a short chase, he was finally stopped in an apartment complex on Meadowbrook Court, but not before he crashed into four other cars.

Troopers say there were also two 12-year-olds, a 15-year-old and a 53-year-old man in the car and all but one were “extremely intoxicated.”

The young driver was arrested and two of the boys were taken to a local hospital for alcohol observation.

(State Rep. Dawn Morrell, D-Puyallup, talks about the bill in the video above)

OLYMPIA — The state House gave final legislative approval Thursday to a DUI bill that would require suspected DUI drivers with a previous DUI conviction to be booked into jail and an ignition interlock device installed on their cars before they ever go to trial.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he will sign it into law.

DUI-DefenseThe bill would also impose new limits on deferred sentencing, and increase treatment options for some DUI offenders.

It would also require repeat DUI offenders to wear electronic monitors around the clock.  But that monitoring program will only be in a few cities and counties, as a pilot program.

The bill is a far cry from earlier, harsher proposals. An earlier proposal would have prohibited three-time DUI offenders from buying alcohol for 10 years, would have required all DUI suspects be arrested, charged  and have their cars outfitted with ignition interlocks.  Another part of the proposal would have made a DUI a felony on the fourth conviction rather than the fifth.

It all came down to the prohibitive cost for courts, jails, and implementing the proposed changes.  The original provisions would have cost up to $100 million a year. The bill that was passed by the Senate Wednesday night and the House Thursday will cost only about $2 million a year.

“The bill passed today is one that focuses rightly on repeat offenders with mandatory booking and jail time for second and subsequent offenders, enhanced ignition interlock requirements, increased funding to help prosecutors speed up the filing of charges, and a 24/7 sobriety program so we can electronically monitor repeat offenders,” Inslee said in a news release.

“While this doesn’t do everything we need or everything I hoped, this is an important step to saving more lives,” he added. “I look forward to continuing our efforts to crack down on those who choose to endanger the lives and livelihoods of others by choosing to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”