WHAT happened to my sister, Morgan Fick Williams, could happen to anyone. On April 4, she was driving to work eastbound on Highway 520 from Seattle, as thousands of people do every morning, when her car was hit head-on by an SUV driven by a drunken driver going the wrong way. She died just a few hours later at Harborview Medical Center.
My sister’s death has devastated our family and is a huge loss for the many people who knew and loved her.
We are not alone, though, in dealing with grief caused by drunken drivers. The “accident” that killed Morgan occurred only 10 days after an unbelievably tragic case in which a drunken driver killed Dennis and Judy Schulte and critically injured their daughter-in-law and newborn grandson in the Wedgwood neighborhood.
In each case, the driver’s blood alcohol content was allegedly far in excess of the legal limit, and in each case the driver had previously been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.
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The driver who killed the Schultes had multiple DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) convictions in the past and was driving with a suspended license.
The driver who killed Morgan had been charged in December with DUI hit-and-run, and had been ordered not to consume alcohol pending his trial on that charge.
Deaths and injuries caused by drunken drivers are unfortunately nothing new, but these two events were so egregious and so close in time that they have prompted a renewed effort in the state Legislature to reduce the devastating consequences of drunken driving by focusing on increased penalties for repeat offenders.
Gov. Jay Inslee, state Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, have worked the last five weeks to develop a package of measures designed to keep repeat DUI offenders off the roads. I hope the details of this package, and the funding for it, can be finalized in the Legislature’s special session, which begins Monday.
The package of new measures would focus on stopping repeat offenders from driving while drunk. It may include, for example, a requirement that a driver with a previous DUI be booked into jail if arrested for a second DUI (under current law a repeat offender is not necessarily booked into jail), and a requirement that an ignition-interlock device be installed if driver has received a DUI and is arrested a second time (before the conviction for the second DUI).
Whatever the ultimate result of this legislative effort, it should contain measures strong enough to effectively keep drivers who have been convicted of a DUI from getting behind the wheel after having had too much to drink. As heartbreaking as our loss has been, it would be even worse if what happened to my sister and to the Schulte family continues to happen again and again.
As anyone among the more than 500 people who attended her memorial service can attest, Morgan had a unique ability to connect a vast network of family members, childhood friends, college friends and co-workers. More than any other person in our family, she was the glue that held us together. She always made sure that, while my kids and her kids were growing up, our two families spent every Christmas Day and every Easter Sunday together at her house in Redmond. She was the one who kept in frequent contact with my mom, my brother and other sister and updated the rest of us on how the others were doing.
It wasn’t just our family. It was her friends from Oak Harbor High School where she was student body president, her college friends from Haggett Hall at the University of Washington and her co-workers at Eddie Bauer.
She had an enormous circle of people who all felt like they were her best friends. None of us could ever have imagined that she would be so suddenly and tragically taken from us.
It is impossible to overstate the losses caused by this irresponsible and preventable behavior. Morgan was in the prime of her life, enjoying every day with her friends and family.
Now she is gone, and all of us must learn to live without her. Please join us in supporting the efforts to keep repeat DUI offenders off the roads.
Matt Fick is a business lawyer in private practice and lives on Bainbridge Island.