Truck slams into pedestrians, cars, killing 1 in downtown Bellingham

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 26, 2014 

Downtown fatal memorial

Jessica Salas-Mitchell, left, cries in the arms of Alex Lihou after visiting an impromptu memorial in the parking lot of the Color Pot along Chestnut St.on Monday, May 26, 2014 in Bellingham, Wash. Salas-Mitchell's friend was killed after being hit by a truck that crashed into three other pedestrians and hit multiple cars early Monday morning. Driver Dustin Brown was arrested after the crash.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM — A truck careened through a parking lot and downtown streets, killing one pedestrian, injuring three others and hitting multiple cars before crashing early Monday, May 26, according to Bellingham Police.

Friends at the scene near the corner of North State and East Chestnut streets identified the pedestrian who died as 37-year-old Dragan Skrobonja.

The three injured people were taken to St. Joseph hospital, where police said they were in stable condition Monday.

Police identified the driver as 27-year-old Dustin F. Brown of Bellingham. Bystanders yanked him from a large Ford work truck after the crash about 1:45 a.m., and held him until officers arrived, according to police.

Witnesses told police that the truck was initially parked in the 1200 block of North State Street, which is one-way headed south. The driver started the truck, accelerated hard as he pulled out into traffic and immediately lost control, according to police.

He sped through the parking lot of the Color Pot at the corner of State and Chestnut, sheared through the chains that usually block the lot at night, and headed toward Chestnut. The first three pedestrians who were hit were on the State Street sidewalk before the truck entered the lot.  As the truck left the lot onto Chestnut, it hit and killed the fourth pedestrian, according to police.

The truck then hit an SUV full of people that was headed up Chestnut and shoved the SUV into a parked car. No one in the SUV was injured.

The truck careened off those vehicles and headed back toward State Street, where it hit two more cars that were parked in front of the Herald Building. The truck kept going until it hit a fence, stopping just before the 10-foot drop into the parking lot south of the Herald Building, according to police.

The truck was then swarmed by people who pulled the driver out and detained him as officers arrived.

Brown was arrested on suspicion of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.

Several specialists from the Bellingham Police Department were working to gather evidence and witness statements Monday morning, to figure out exactly what happened during the incident.

Casey Floresca lives on the corner of State and Chestnut streets and ran outside after hearing the crash from inside her home.

"I heard a really loud crash, followed by a bunch of yells and what sounded like screaming," she said. "I ran to my window and saw a ton of people and cars facing every which way. there were a couple people lying on the ground."

Once she got outside, the scene was chaotic and confusing. The area is home to several bars and eateries, and many people were out celebrating the three-day weekend and the end of Sunday's Ski to Sea race.

"Nobody really knew exactly what happened," she said. "It was pretty shocking."

Beatrice Gomile, the girlfriend of the man who died, was at the scene of the crash Monday afternoon with friends bringing flowers to the spot where Skrobonja was hit. She had met up with him at a bar downtown on Sunday night, but had left early because she had to go to work. He was going to get a ride home with a friend.

When a knock came at her door in the middle of the night, she thought it must have been him. But it was police, notifying her that he had been killed. She thought it must have been a joke, but she said she knew that police wouldn't kid.

She was shocked. Gomile and friends were still confused about what exactly happened the night before, but they said they wouldn't be surprised if Skrobonja had been trying to protect someone when he got hit. That was the kind of person he was.

Gomile said she was "devastated, empty-feeling" at the loss.

"I lost my best friend," she said. "We were always together. Now I will always be looking for him."

Shortly after 1 a.m., the two had texted each other for the last time. She said "I lob you," and he joked about the misspelling. They sent smiley faces back and forth as he said he loved her, too.

"That was his last text message," she said.

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Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com.

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