Robert Jackson was released early from prison because of a state error in calculating sentences, which resulted in the early release of thousands of inmates since 2002. Lindsay Hill, of Bellevue, was dating him when he crashed his car, killing the mother of two boys.
Jane and Craig Noel’s 14-year-old grandson still has nightmares about the night his mother died, but he refuses to talk about seeing her body pinned beneath a car.
“He has extreme anxiety. He can’t sleep without the TV on. It’s amazing the things he’s afraid of,” said Craig Noel, a retired financial adviser.
“He just can’t get it out of his head. It’s just been horrific,” said his wife, a retired nurse.
The Kirkland couple Tuesday filed a claim against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) on behalf of their two grandsons, the 14-year-old and his 8-year-old brother, who lost their mother in a car crash caused by a felon mistakenly released early from prison.
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Robert Jackson, 39, was convicted of vehicular homicide in July for killing the boys’ mother, 35-year-old Lindsay Hill, on Nov. 11, 2015. Jackson was drunk and driving 80 mph when he slammed into an electrical utility box, causing Hill to be thrown from his 1992 Lexus LS outside her apartment building in Bellevue’s Newport Hills neighborhood.
The charge was Jackson’s third strike under the state’s Persistent Offender Act, and he was sentenced in December to life in prison without the possibility of release.
The Noels are haunted by the fact their daughter would likely never have met Jackson and certainly wouldn’t have been killed by him if the state had not ignored a computer-software problem responsible for the early release of some 3,000 inmates since 2002.
DOC was alerted to the problem in 2012 by the family of a crime victim and yet did nothing to fix it or even publicly acknowledge it until late 2015, said Seattle attorney Mike Wampold, who with Tomas Gahan is representing the Noels.
Jackson was freed in August 2015 but should have remained locked up until that December.
“The Washington Department of Corrections recognizes mistakes were made with Mr. Jackson’s sentencing calculations and that Ms. Hill’s family has experienced a tragic loss. That said, the department does not comment on pending claims or litigation,” said Jeremy Barclay, DOC’s communications director.
Gahan, though, said the agency “had every reason to know this could happen. They saw this coming years ago and they did nothing.”
The Noels’ tort claim against the DOC is a required step before the couple can file a wrongful-death lawsuit in King County Superior Court. While Wampold said he’s had conversations with DOC officials, he’s doubtful the claim will be settled during the 60-day time period the department has to respond to it.
“My sense is they aren’t being realistic as to the level of the loss, and I think this may very well go to trial,” Wampold said.
The claim does not include a specific request for monetary damages.
Should they prevail, the Noels said any money they receive will go into a trust fund for their grandsons to pay for counseling, trauma therapy and college.
The Noels are raising their elder grandson, while his younger brother is now living with his father and stepmother in Everett. Both boys miss their mother, and while it’s been hard for them to be separated, the brothers see each other often, their grandparents said.
Their elder grandson is in counseling and equine therapy, which is helping with his grief, according to his grandparents. He hasn’t wanted to venture far from home, but he recently got a Goldendoodle puppy named Macallan, which he takes on walks.
“It’s stressful and it’s hard. Their mom’s gone, and she’s not coming back,” Craig Noel said.
Jane Noel said she and her husband were in Arizona when Hill first met Jackson in August 2015.
“I talked to Lindsay every day and I was aware of their relationship. I just never met him,” she said of Jackson. “She didn’t say anything real negative about him and I didn’t ask a lot of questions, to be perfectly honest.”
They were at home in Kirkland when a police officer came to their door at 3 a.m. to inform them their daughter had been involved in a terrible crash, Jane Noel recalled. They rushed to the scene and reunited with their grandsons at a church across the street from the boys’ apartment building.
A month after Hill was killed, Jane Noel said she received a phone call from someone at DOC.
“He said this was a terrible mistake and they were sorry,” she said.
A couple of weeks later, on Christmas Eve 2015, she got a call from Gov. Jay Inslee:
“He’d just become aware of this problem and he said, ‘I’m madder than heck and this never should’ve happened,’ ” Jane Noel recalled. “He said, ‘You do what you have to do about this, Jane,’ and he gave me his personal phone number.”
In the summer, the couple attended Jackson’s trial and were in court when their older grandson testified against him.
“It was really painful, just to be there and just to know this very violent man who should never have been out of prison killed our daughter,” Jane Noel said.