State court overturns Hailey’s Law, named after Whatcom woman injured by a DUI driver

A law named after a Whatcom County woman injured by a drunken driver in 2007 was overturned by the Washington State Supreme Court on Thursday, Oct. 17.

Hailey’s Law, as it was dubbed, was signed into law by then Gov. Chris Gregoire in April 2011, and required law enforcement officers to impound cars belonging to people they arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs for 12 hours. It was meant to make sure people sober up before they can access a vehicle.

“This makes it — not worth it — but in a sense it does make it worth it because it means I went through this so somebody else doesn’t have to,” Hailey Huntley said in 2011. She was known as Hailey French when she was injured in a 2007 head-on crash on the Mount Baker Highway.

An appeal following a DUI stop in January 2018 in Quincy brought the law before the state Supreme Court this week.

According to court documents, Joel Villela was stopped for speeding by Sgt. Paul Snyder in Quincy. Sgt. Snyder smelled alcohol on Villela’s breath, and after Villela declined a roadside sobriety test, arrested him on suspicion of DUI.

Sgt. Snyder also had Villela’s jeep impounded, as the law dictated.

“Following the dictates of RCW 46.55.360, Sergeant Snyder did not consider whether there was a reasonable alternative to impounding Villela’s jeep, such as releasing it to one of Villela’s two passengers,” court documents state.

After the Jeep was impounded, Sgt. Snyder found sandwich bags, digital scales, black cloth, pipes and $340 in cash that were suspected to be for drug dealing, and Villela was charged in Grant County with DUI and possession with intent to deliver controlled substances.

Villela’s lawyer said the seizure of the Jeep was unconstitutional because the seizure did not meet lawful requirements, and the state Supreme Court unanimously agreed.

In writing the court’s opinion, Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote, “The trial court below found that RCW 46.55.360 violates our constitution because it requires what the constitution allows only under limited circumstances. We agree. Our constitution cannot be amended by statute, and while the legislature can give more protection to constitutional rights through legislation, it cannot use legislation to take that protection away.”

Hailey’s Law history

Huntley spent 45 days in Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after the Jan. 4, 2007, crash and was still undergoing surgeries at the time the law was passed in 2011.

Hours before that crash, a Washington State Patrol trooper had found Janine Parker passed out behind the wheel at the intersection of Sunset Drive and Barkley Boulevard in Bellingham. Trooper Chad Bosman arrested and cited Parker for DUI but did not impound her car, instead leaving it at the scene. Due to overcrowding at the jail she was not booked. He drove her 9 miles to her home on Lake Whatcom, gave her back her car keys and told her not to drive until she sobered up.

After Bosman left, Parker called a cab to take her back to her car at Sunset and Barkley. She was driving on Mount Baker Highway when her car crossed the center line and struck Huntley’s car.

Parker had a blood-alcohol level of 0.24 when arrested after the crash; her level at the earlier arrest was 0.14. She later pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and was sentenced to 14 months in prison.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.