Prosecutor: Driver was drunk in Bellingham crash that killed pedestrian

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 27, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - The driver whose truck struck four pedestrians, killing one, early Monday had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit, according to prosecutors.

Dustin F. Brown, 27, hung his head solemnly as he stood in the Whatcom County Jail courtroom Tuesday, May 27. He faces charges of vehicular homicide in the death of 37-year-old Dragan Skrobonja, as well as three counts of vehicular assault for the three men he allegedly hit and injured.

In the courtroom, Deputy Prosecutor James Hulbert read the police reports from that night, reconstructing a horrific scene as the truck plowed over people and smashed into cars as it careened through a downtown filled with people leaving bars.

Those police reports list Brown's blood alcohol level of 0.23, taken from a preliminary field breath test after the crash.

Brown's 1-ton truck had been parked in the 1200 block of North State Street. Shortly before the crash, a Bellingham Police officer saw the truck's tires spinning and heard the engine revving at about 1:30 a.m. The truck accelerated hard as it pulled out into traffic.

The truck sped into the parking lot of the Color Pot at the corner of State and Chestnut streets, striking three pedestrians who were on the sidewalk. It sheared through the chains that usually block the lot at night and headed toward Chestnut. As the truck left the lot onto Chestnut, it hit and killed Skrobonja, according to police.

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

Hulbert said the truck then reversed and sped toward State Street, where it crossed both lanes and hit a car in front of the Herald Building.

After that crash, a witness jumped halfway into the open driver's side window to try to stop Brown from driving away from the scene.

Brown allegedly sped up and swerved to try to knock the man off his truck, according to police reports read in court. As he did that, the truck fishtailed and eventually crashed into a metal railing, stopping just before the 10-foot drop into the parking lot south of the Herald Building. The man suffered hand and rib injuries in his effort to stop the truck.

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

Brown told officers at the scene that he had been drinking at the Up & Up Tavern on North State Street before the crash, Hulbert said, and police noticed slurred speech and an odor of intoxicants.

At the hospital later, Brown said he had consumed one or one and a half beers. He claimed his vehicle took off and he ran into buildings and cars to stop it, according to police reports read in court. Brown's defense attorney Jim Turner claimed a mechanical malfunction kept the truck accelerating.

Brown moved to Bellingham from Rhode Island in 2013, and he had a suspended driver's license from Rhode Island. It was not known Tuesday why the license was suspended.

Hulbert asked for bail of $1 million, saying that the seriousness of the crimes couldn't be overstated. Turner said bail should be closer to $20,000. Court Commissioner Edwin Simmers noted the "horrific nature of the tragedy," the very high blood alcohol level and the danger Brown posed to the community when he set bail at $500,000.

Police identified the three people injured in the crash as Brian Corey, Brynden Gorman and John Weitzel. They were treated at St. Joseph hospital and released. Corey had a lower leg injury, Gorman reported back pain and Weitzel had a fractured cheekbone and lower leg injury.

Corey, 26, said he was in Bellingham visiting friends for Ski to Sea and was walking the block back to his friend's place from a nearby bar when he heard the roar of a diesel engine. He turned to the sound and the truck immediately slammed into him and his two friends.

"It was just so instantaneous," he said. "The headlights were right on us. There was nowhere to go."

Corey said he doesn't know exactly what happened when he was hit, but he got up from the ground with a rush of adrenaline and only made it a few steps before he fell back down. He made it over to his friend, who was bleeding and repeating that he was going to die. Corey said it looked like he might. He could see the fourth person the truck hit on the other side of the parking lot, and he watched the truck continue on what Corey described as a "path of destruction."

"It was the stuff nightmares are made of," Corey said. "It was like watching a horror movie unfold."

POLICE SEEK PHOTOS, VIDEO

The Bellingham Police Department is looking for photos and video from the crash as part of its investigation. Anyone with photos or video of any portion of the crash should contact Detective Pauline Renick at 360-778-8754 or Detective Tawsha Dykstra at 360-778-8664.

Reach Zoe Fraley at zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com or 360-756-2803. Read the Dispatcher Blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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