BELLINGHAM - Teen driver Carli Alvarado was found guilty of vehicular homicide Tuesday, June 14, for the crash that killed a Bellingham toddler in 2010.
Alvarado's mother, Lori, broke into tears as Whatcom County Juvenile Court Commissioner Alfred Heydrich announced the ruling before a packed courtroom.
Heydrich is scheduled to decide Alvarado's sentence July 6. The sentencing range is 15 to 36 weeks in a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration facility.
Alvarado, a 16-year-old Bellingham High School student, went on trial since June 7 for her role in the crash that killed 2-year-old Anna Brulotte on Sept. 30. That afternoon, Alvarado had just left Bellingham High School and was driving north on Cornwall Avenue with two friends in the car, a violation of her intermediate license.
She admitted to looking down for two to three seconds as she tried to show something in her backpack to one of her friends right before crashing into a Ford Escort, which had been stopped on Cornwall waiting for the Brulotte family to cross Virginia Street. The crash pushed the Escort into the family, killing Anna and injuring her mother, Melissa Brulotte, who had been holding Anna's hand as they crossed the street.
The Bellingham Herald names minors charged with crimes that cause someone's death.
Heydrich found Alvarado's speed before the crash to be about 25 mph, closer to the defense estimate than the state's estimate of 32 mph, but still 5 mph over the school zone speed limit.
In the ruling, he focused on the fact that Alvarado never saw the Escort until she crashed into it. This indicated to him that she was distracted for longer than the few seconds that she looked down at her backpack just before the crash. The lengthy inattention went beyond ordinary negligence, he said, and proved that she was driving with disregard for the safety of others, which was necessary to be found guilty of vehicular homicide.
"We respect Commissioner Heydrich's ruling, but we're surprised that he could make a finding that the inattentiveness spanned for such a long period of time," defense attorney Jeffrey Lustick said. "All the evidence we put in strongly indicated that there was some distraction but that it lasted only approximately one to three seconds. We're going to be reviewing the record and considering what options my client will have in possibly appealing the decision, but it's too soon to know what we might choose to do."
Melissa Brulotte declined to comment about the ruling, but prosecutor Dave McEachran said that she had been gratified with the court's decision. He described the incident as a "horrendous ordeal" for the Brulotte family, as well as a reminder of the tremendous responsibility one assumes getting behind the wheel.
To reinforce that message, and hopefully prevent the death of others, Melissa launched a foundation named after her daughter. The mission is to educate drivers, especially teens, on how to be safer behind the wheel and not put pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers in danger.
McEachran, Lustick and Heydrich all agreed that the situation has been devastating on all sides.
"It's a tragic case when you lose the life of a child, a great tragedy," McEachran said. "This case has impacted everyone that was involved."
Melissa Brulotte started a foundation to help educate people about the importance of paying attention while driving. To learn more about the foundation or a fundraising half-marathon planned for October, go to annabrulottememorial.org.