When attorney Sarah Leyrer worked for Columbia Legal Services, advocating for Eastern Washington farm workers, she used her artistic talents to create cartoons and illustrations to explain workers’ rights to non-English speakers, according to a former colleague.
“She was just an incredible spirit, a free spirit. She lived her advocacy,” said Columbia Legal Services’ executive director, Merf Ehman, adding that Leyrer continued to volunteer with the Northwest Justice Project and recently created an illustration to explain the coronavirus.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office on Monday identified Leyrer as the woman killed when the parked car she was seated inside was struck by a patrol SUV driven by a King County sheriff’s deputy on Saturday in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood.
Leyrer, 41, died from a blunt force injury to her head and her death was ruled an accident, according to the office.
Efforts to contact Leyrer’s husband and relatives have not been successful.
An emailed statement released Monday by the family of sheriff’s Deputy Reggie Thomas said he suffered a massive stroke at the time of the crash and remains in the intensive-care unit at Harborview Medical Center.
“My deepest condolences go out to the family of the woman who lost her life in this tragedy,” the statement says.
Sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Ryan Abbott said Thomas has worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 30 years and most recently was assigned to King County Metro Transit Police.
Leyrer was identified as the woman killed in social media posts Sunday by her family and friends.
“I first met Sarah in law school. She was effervescent, quirky and had a heart pure as gold,” Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González wrote on Twitter. “I convinced her to work at Casa Latina and we often stood in store parking lots volunteering as legal observers to make sure day laborers were protected from [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] raids in South Seattle.”
A 2006 graduate of Seattle University School of Law, Leyrer joined the Washington State Bar that year and worked on farm-worker rights as an attorney for Columbia Legal Services, according to a short bio included in a 2013 news release from the university. That year, Leyrer was awarded the Spirit of Service Award by the Latina/o community and in 2010, she was named the state bar association’s Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year.
The crash happened around 12:30 p.m. Saturday along a commercial stretch of southbound Airport Way South near South Nebraska Street, according to the Seattle Police Department, which is investigating the collision.
A King County Sheriff Transit Police SUV struck a silver car from behind, and the female victim was in a passenger seat, Seattle Police Department spokesperson Patrick Michaud said at the time. She died at the scene.
Investigators believe the deputy “probably lost control of the vehicle while having a medical emergency,” Michaud said Saturday.
The deputy, who was extricated from the SUV, suffered serious injuries, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman said.
The woman’s car struck a utility pole, a commercial building and two other vehicles that were unoccupied. No other injuries were reported.
According to Ehman, Leyrer met her future husband, Mike Katell, at Columbia Legal Services, where he worked in IT before pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Washington. The couple was planning to soon move to London, where Katell was accepted into a post-doctoral program, Ehman said.
“It’s just a loss for our community. She was a sweet soul to her core,” said Ehman, adding that grief counselors will be available by Zoom on Tuesday to counsel her former colleagues at Columbia Legal Services, where Leyrer worked from 2008 to 2015. “People, I think, are really shocked.”
Leyrer became a senior investigator with the city of Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards in 2015, the year it was formed, to enforce labor standards and protect workers’ rights.
“Her unfading curiosity fueled her tenacity for justice. Sarah lived her life in service to others, with a passion for advancing worker and immigrant rights and racial equity,” the office said in a statement. “Her legacy and spirit will leave a lasting imprint on her colleagues, friends, and the countless workers in Seattle whom she championed throughout the years.”
The statement continued: “As we reflect on how much she meant to us, we are reminded of how fiercely and intentionally she lived her life. Sarah was one of the first people to invite you into her world, share her time and offer a helping hand. She was a bright, creative, committed person whose enthusiasm, kindness, and humor made a difference in the lives of many. We have been made better because of her. She will be deeply missed.”
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.