A 50-year-old man who caused an eight-car collision on Seattle’s Elliott Avenue West in July 2012, killing one woman and seriously injuring another, was sentenced this afternoon to 4½ years in prison after a jury convicted him last month of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault as a result of reckless driving.
Timothy Durden was speeding north in the center turn lane just before 6:30 a.m. on July 17, 2012, when he swerved into oncoming traffic to avoid a head-on collision with a southbound car that was stopped in the turn lane as the driver waited to make a left turn. Police determined that Durden had plenty of time and space to merge with cars in the northbound lanes, but instead swerved to his left, his SUV ramping up and over a Subaru Impreza driven by 56-year-old Rosemary Tempel.
Temple suffered catastrophic injuries and died soon after she was transported to Harborview Medical Center.
As Durden’s SUV careened out of control, still traveling north in the southbound lanes, large pieces of metal and at least one wheel were ripped from his vehicle by the force of the collision. Debris from Durden’s car – likely a front wheel and attached suspension components — slammed into a Subaru Forester driven by 63-year-old Barbara Kaykas, fracturing her arm.
Other drivers involved in the collision suffered minor injuries.
Durden, who pulled himself out through the sunroof after his SUV landed on its side and slid across the northbound lanes, was also injured and was taken to Harborview. Marijuana was found just outside Durden’s SUV, and while he claimed to be a medical-marijuana patient, police were unable to confirm he had a prescription card.
A drug-recognition expert attempted to evaluate Durden at the hospital, but was unable to determine his level of impairment because doctors were working to treat his injuries.
Despite the lack of a full drug evaluation, prosecutors charged Durden with vehicular homicide and alleged that he had been driving under the influence and in a reckless manner.
But a King County Superior Court judge later ruled that evidence of Durden’s alleged marijuana use would not be heard by the jury, which convicted him under the “reckless” prong of the state statute.
Increased penalties for vehicular homicide and vehicular assault went into effect last year, but those changes — which nearly tripled the length of prison sentences for vehicular homicide — apply only to those convicted of killing or injuring someone while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not to those driving recklessly but unimpaired.
Durden, a felon whose two prior DUIs were reduced to reckless-driving offenses, was under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections at the time of the crash after pleading guilty to beating his wife in 2010.