Timothy Durden showed up to court 25 minutes late on Friday, then cried throughout his sentencing hearing, tearfully apologizing for killing one woman and seriously injuring another when he caused an eight-car collision on Seattle’s Elliott Avenue West in July 2012.
Durden — who at the time of the multivehicle crash was on community supervision after serving a six-month sentence on electronic home detention for beating his wife — was convicted of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault by a King County jury last month.
Though he was originally charged with being under the influence of marijuana, King County Superior Court Judge Monica Benton suppressed evidence of Durden’s impairment during pretrial hearings.
On Friday, she sentenced Durden to 4½ years in prison, a top-range sentence for vehicular homicide caused by reckless driving.
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Noting Durden’s previous reckless-driving convictions that were pleaded down from DUIs, as well as his other criminal history, Benton said Durden, 50, has made many courtroom appearances over the past 17 years.
“In many ways, this was foreseeable,” she said of the crash that killed Rosemary Tempel, a 56-year-old trauma nurse, and caused a fracture to Barbara Kaykas’ wrist that still hasn’t healed. “And yet the one person who could have changed it all didn’t.”
Benton, the judge who oversaw Durden while he was on community supervision, the state’s version of parole, said she has had two years to observe him.
“He’s expressed remorse, remorse, remorse, yet the behavior keeps bringing him back to court,” she said.
Even though Benton gave Durden the stiffest punishment she could, Tempel’s brother, Phillip Drum, remains furious that the judge suppressed evidence that Durden was high as he sped north in the turn lane of Elliott Avenue West just before 6:30 a.m. on July 17, 2012.
Durden was on his way to work and using the turn lane to pass other vehicles when he swerved into oncoming traffic to avoid a head-on collision with a southbound car whose driver was waiting 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 Tempel’s Subaru Impreza.
Tempel died soon after she was taken to Harborview Medical Center.
Other drivers involved in the collision suffered minor injuries.
Durden 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.
Durden could have faced up to 16 years in prison had he been found guilty of causing the crash while impaired, said Drum, an oncology pharmacist. Though Durden admitted to ingesting marijuana before the crash and signed a form voluntarily allowing his blood to be drawn and tested, Benton ruled that a Seattle police officer improperly filled out the form and should have first obtained a warrant, Drum said.
Tempel’s friends and family remembered her as a dedicated trauma and emergency-room nurse who was also a leader in patient safety and quality control at Virginia Mason Hospital & Medical Center. She was an artist and unofficial aunt to kids in her Whittier Heights neighborhood, where she was often called on to help with medical emergencies and kept a stash of earthquake supplies for everyone on her street.
Kaykas’ partner of 30 years, Jordan Rehm, also addressed the court, telling Benton that because Durden was driving without insurance, Kaykas has suffered both physically and financially, racking up more than $30,000 in medical bills.
“Timothy Durden is not someone who made a single error,” Rehm said. Given the “questionable nature of his impairment, It is appalling” how little time Durden will spend behind bars.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org