Bellingham man killed by suspected drunk driver remembered as kind, open

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 30, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - The man who was killed by a suspected drunk driver as he was walking downtown over Memorial Day weekend was remembered by friends and family for his infectious smile and giving nature, the kind of person who would bond with cab drivers and be a friend for those in need.

Dragan Skrobonja, 37, was killed early Monday, May 26, one of several pedestrians hit by a driver who police believe was drunk.

Dustin F. Brown, 27, is being charged with vehicular homicide, four counts of vehicular assault, three counts of injury hit and run and one hit and run death.

A Bellingham Police officer heard the engine revving on Brown's Ford truck at about 1:30 a.m., as it was parked in the 1200 block of North State Street. He saw the truck "launch" into the road, rear wheels spinning and losing traction before the truck cut the corner of the intersection of State and East Chestnut Street, according to documents filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.

The truck hit three men who were walking on the sidewalk as it entered the parking lot of the Color Pot. The truck blew through the lot and the chains that blocked it off for the night, hitting Skrobonja as it exited onto Chestnut. Skrobonja died at the scene.

Once on Chestnut, the truck crashed into an SUV full of people, forcing the SUV into a parked vehicle. Witnesses at the scene said the truck reversed away from the crash and then drove over the sidewalk, through a parking lot across from the Herald Building and across both lanes of State Street, according to court documents. The truck then hit a car parked in front of the Herald Building, knocking the car onto the sidewalk and into a parking meter.

The police officer was behind the Ford in his patrol car as Brown reversed from that crash, according to documents. The officer saw a man, identified as Tyler Dixon, jump halfway into the driver's side window of the truck to try to stop the driver from getting away, but the Ford sped off to try to dislodge him. It then hit another parked car, swerved, lost traction and crashed into a metal railing.

The impact threw Dixon from the truck, injuring his ribs and fingers.

Bystanders swarmed the truck - one even reached inside and removed the keys - before the officer placed Brown in handcuffs. Brown was heard repeating "I (messed) up" and asking, "Please tell me the person I hit is OK."

A preliminary breath test on Brown showed a blood alcohol level of 0.23 - nearly three times the legal limit, according to prosecutors.

At the hospital after the crash, Brown told investigators that he had one and a half beers at the bar and that when he got in his truck, it took off as soon as he pressed down the gas pedal, according to court documents. He thought he drove for two to three city blocks before choosing to turn left into what he thought was a gas station, which was actually the Color Pot lot.

He told investigators that he intentionally drove into the parking lot and that his plan was to hit a building to stop his truck. That was also his intention when he crashed into the other cars. He said he remembered hitting pedestrians but didn't remember how or where the truck came to a stop, according to court documents.

Skrobonja's brother-in-law Jordan Klein said he wanted to remember Skrobonja and the lives that he touched instead of the horrible circumstances of his death. Skrobonja and his family left war-torn Bosnia when he was 15, and he told his sister, Klein's wife Snezana, not to be ashamed of where they came from. Skrobonja would share his story with people, in the hopes that they would come to know him and he them.

He lived in Bellingham on and off for 18 years, working and going to school intermittently. Though he hadn't been back to Sarajevo for many years, Skrobonja's friends gathered in front of his old apartment there after they heard about his death. He was just someone people remembered, Klein said.

"The impact he left on everyone, I can't think of anyone else I know that was able to do that," Klein said. "And it was everybody. It didn't matter if you were wealthy or you were homeless. It didn't matter if you were pretty or you were ugly. He would take the time to get to know you."

A celebration of Skrobonja's life will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 31, at the Bellingham Ferry Terminal, open to all who knew him.

"He had so many lessons to teach us all in terms of how to treat humanity," Klein said. "He didn't walk past if someone was struggling to carry something. He was there to help in any way he could to anyone he could. He wanted to leave everybody better than he found them, happier than he found them."

The outpouring of support after Skrobonja's death is proof that he succeeded, Klein said. A makeshift memorial popped up on the sidewalk near the Color Pot parking lot Monday morning, overflowing with flowers, and has been kept up. Justice for Dragan Skrobonja, a Facebook page, had hundreds of followers as of Friday.

"He just had that special something," Klein said. "The world is going to miss him greatly."

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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