Four family members who survived a 2012 accident in which a huge tree fell onto an SUV on Highway 2 near Stevens Pass will receive $10 million from the state, in a tentative settlement announced by the family Friday.
The Owen family of Bothell was heading to Leavenworth for a Christmas vacation Dec. 21 – days after a rare, severe ice storm had hit Western Washington – when a large tree landed on their SUV, instantly killing Tim Owen, 58, and Cheryl Reed Owen, 56, who were in the front seats.
The couple’s three adult children and a son-in-law survived. The couple’s son walked away with minor injuries. But Jessica Owen, Jaime Owen Mayer and Steven Mayer all sustained serious injuries that are expected to hamper their mobility for years to come. Jessica Owen suffered an especially serious spinal injury, and the former Frank Love Elementary School teacher now uses a motorized wheelchair. Though still quadriplegic, intense physical therapy has made it possible for her to walk with forearm crutches for short periods of time.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) had been advised the day before the accident that trees were falling along Highway 2, east of Stevens Pass, records show. Also, the day after the accident, WSDOT refused State Patrol requests to close the highway as trees continued to fall perilously close to cars. Hours later, a tree fell on another car carrying a family with a pregnant woman inside. One passenger suffered serious injuries.
The highway was immediately closed after that crash for three days.
Transportation-department supervisors said falling trees had never before posed a danger great enough for them to close Stevens Pass.
State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said in a statement he thought the state had a strong case for not awarding money to the family, but settled with the family to avoid the risk of spending even more money and time on the case.
“We appreciate the collaborative manner in which they worked to resolve this case,” Calkins said. “We’ve gotten to know the Owen family during the mediation and have the greatest respect for how they’ve handled this tragedy.”
The costs of the crash survivors’ hospitalization, surgeries and physical therapy have easily risen into the millions of dollars, said the survivors’ lawyer, Karen Koehler.
A statement from the Owen/Mayer family, issued Friday, read in part:
“The State acted humanely and compassionately towards us during the entire year we worked on the mediation. There were no accusations. There was no fighting. We were treated with dignity and respect, even though at times we agreed to disagree.
“We hope that by financially acknowledging our loss, the State will be more proactive in protecting the travelling public from known dangers. Temporarily closing a roadway may be an inconvenience. But a short delay is a small price to pay for the life of a loved one.”