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Victim information not included in DUI crash report
By KIPP ROBERTSON
and RICHARD WALKER
POULSBO — The name and contact information of a woman injured by a drunken driver, the extent of her injuries, and the fact her car was totaled were not included in a report used to charge a Kitsap County deputy prosecutor with DUI.
Barbara O. Dennis was allowed to go through Drug Court, where prosecution was deferred on the condition she undergo treatment for alcoholism. Prosecuting Attorney Russell Hauge said that option would not have been available to her and she would have lost her county job if the crash victim’s injuries rose to the level of a felony vehicular assault charge.
It's not clear whether Marilyn Gaul's injuries rose to that level. But officials didn’t know the extent of her injuries — she said they didn’t even know her name — when the decision was made to charge Dennis with DUI. The report filed by Washington State Patrol identifies Gaul only as “the driver of the Volvo,” and states “her head, neck, and back hurt.” It states that paramedics said they would be taking her to Harrison Medical Center, but it doesn’t say she was transported to the emergency room.
Asked if, as a prosecutor, he would expect to find a victim’s identity, contact information and extent of injuries in a crash report, Kitsap County Prosecutor Russell Hauge said he depends on WSP to determine what information is important enough to be in a report.
"[We rely on] the judgment of State Patrol as to what’s useful and what’s not,” Hauge said Dec. 30.
Dennis was arrested Oct. 9 by a Washington State Patrol trooper after her Dodge van rear-ended Gaul’s Volvo on State Route 307 at Pugh and Foss roads. Dennis’s two 3-year-olds were in her vehicle at the time. The children were not injured and their aunt picked them up at the scene, according to the WSP report.
According to WSP, Dennis failed to brake for the car in front of hers; that car, Gaul’s Volvo, was stopped for another car making a left turn onto Foss Road. The van crashed into the back of the Volvo and pushed it into oncoming traffic.
Dennis refused to give a breath sample, and was arrested and taken to Kitsap County Jail, where a breath sample determined her blood alcohol level was between 0.144 and 0.134. The legal limit is 0.08.
Gaul said she was never asked for a statement. “I never received any paperwork at any time from anyone,” Gaul wrote to the Herald. “The trooper only returned my license and my registration when he met us at Shari’s in Silverdale (while we were waiting for my medications from Walgreens — pain medication and muscle relaxers). The trooper told us he had booked the driver for DUI and that is why he never made it to the ER.” In an email Dec. 31, Gaul recalled the post-crash details.
“I was taken to the ER by an aid car, on a backboard in a neck brace. The trooper showed up as they were taking me out of my car. At that time he said he would meet up with me at the hospital for my statement. I never saw him until he met up with us at Shari's. My husband had called the WSP from the ER and again from the restaurant to get my driver’s license back and the car registration.”
Gaul wrote that she has neck pain and back pain and “I had extreme pain in my arm from gripping the steering wheel at the time of impact.” She credits “extreme pain in my lower left leg” to the impact of the crash.
“I have hardware in that leg from a break from 9 years ago. I am currently waiting to see a surgeon from Seattle to see if the hardware has been bent or needs to be removed as a result of this accident,” Gaul wrote. “I have had pain in that leg ever since the crash.”
According to state law, Dennis could have been charged with felony vehicular assault if the crash had caused “substantial bodily harm" to Gaul. State law defines “substantial bodily harm" as “bodily injury which involves a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily part or organ, or which causes a fracture of any bodily part.”
The Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office forwarded the case to Pierce County to avoid any conflict of interest. Because Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office "had unanswered questions" after looking at WSP’s report, the case was delayed, said Tim Lewis, Pierce County deputy prosecuting attorney.
Because there was never a claim of more than minor injuries, the court did not have a case for a felony, Lewis told the Herald. He understood that Gaul had been advised by the trooper to contact WSP if her condition worsened. But Gaul said that’s not the case. And it’s not indicated in reports from the crash.
Rebecca Gaines, WSP public disclosure coordinator, said she could not find a record of a witness statement from Gaul. Gaines said the trooper may have not sought a witness statement from Gaul because it was obvious Dennis had been driving while intoxicated.
Gaul wrote that she first talked to a Pierce County prosecutor — Lewis — when she called after reading news stories of Dennis's deferred sentence.
“I called Tim Lewis to tell him my outrage of her getting off so easy when my life had been so traumatically affected. My car is totaled, my injuries are ongoing," she said. "Tim Lewis told me he didn't even know my name until I called him. I asked him if anyone thought to see what happened to the person Barbara Dennis had plowed into.”
Gaul said Lewis told her “there would have to be broken bones or some major injury before a felony charge could be made.”
In an email to the Herald, Gaul wrote, “I have issues with my neck, back and the worst is my left leg. I have hardware in it from a broken leg in 2004. [Since] Barbara Dennis rear ended me, I have had extreme pain in that leg. After a surgeon gets my medical records he will determine what can be done. The pain is ongoing and my primary care doctor has said the hardware will probably have to be removed. The hardware could have been broken or dislodged from the accident.”
Gaul said she is going to physical therapy for treatment of her neck and back. “As for now, the short answer is, treatment for the injuries are ongoing.”