Crime

Driver charged in killing of two teens near Ferndale

Video: Bellingham driver accused of killing two teens appears in court

William Klein, the driver accused of hitting four teenage boys and killing two of them, appears in Whatcom Superior Court at the Whatcom County Jail for the first time with his lawyer, Michael Brodsky, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Bellingham. Phil
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William Klein, the driver accused of hitting four teenage boys and killing two of them, appears in Whatcom Superior Court at the Whatcom County Jail for the first time with his lawyer, Michael Brodsky, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Bellingham. Phil

A man facing charges for killing two teenage boys walking on a sidewalk near Ferndale on Wednesday, June 10, told investigators he was sleepy but not under the influence of drugs during the crash, according to attorneys working the case.

William J. Klein, 34, was driving a black SUV on West Smith Road with his 3-year-old son inside at the same time dozens of Windward High School students in a P.E. class were walking on the sidewalk around 1:30 p.m. Klein swerved slightly to the left, then over-corrected to the right and hit four teenage boys, the Washington State Patrol said.

Shane L. Ormiston, 18, and Gabriel L. Anderson, 15, both died at the scene. The two other boys hit, Michael A. Brewster and Kole A. Randall, both 17, had severe fractures to their legs and were rushed to the hospital. Brewster was in satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and Randall was in serious condition at St. Joseph hospital on Thursday, the hospitals said.

Klein told troopers investigating the crash that he was sleepy. He admitted to regular marijuana use and past use of hallucinogenic mushrooms but did not say he was under the influence of either at the time. At some point after initially interviewing Klein, troopers returned to his black Toyota 4Runner and found Klein curled up and asleep inside, said Whatcom County Prosecutor Dave McEachran.

Klein’s blood was drawn and he underwent a urine test to check if he had any drugs in his system. The results of those tests won’t come in for a couple weeks, McEachran said. Klein has been charged with two counts of vehicular homicide and two counts vehicular assault.

Klein’s wife spoke during his first appearance in court Thursday, June 11, telling the court through tears that Klein is a “wonderful father” who made a horrible mistake. Klein — with a full beard and his hair in a loose bun — kept his head down for most of the hearing.

Michael Brodsky, Klein’s defense attorney, asked the court to release Klein on his own recognizance. Whatcom County Superior Court Commissioner Leon Henley instead set his bail at $200,000.

Brodsky later said his client was heartbroken and devastated by the incident. He was confident that lab tests would show Klein was not under the influence of anything.

“My understanding was that perhaps he had smoked marijuana, which we all know is legal in this state, but not that he had smoked earlier that day or before driving,” Brodsky said. “He’s just a regular guy with a job and a kid who just had a really unfortunate accident.”

Meanwhile, the Ferndale community continues to grieve for the two teenagers killed . At least 100 people, including students, parents and teachers, gathered Wednesday night just hours after the crash to tell stories about Ormiston and Anderson.

“This is a devastating blow to our school community, and my heart is breaking for those two parents whose kids didn’t come home from school yesterday,” Ferndale School District Superintendent Linda Quinn said Thursday.

Ormiston’s death came one day after his graduation. Windward High School’s graduation ceremonies were on Tuesday, June 9, but the school continued to hold classes through the end of the week.

Tia Gonzales, 18, grew up as a neighbors to Ormiston and went to prom with him in April. She struggled to talk about her longtime friend without crying but said Ormiston was “a very sweet kid and a very good friend” who loved to be around people.

Tia’s mother, Cris Gonzales, said Ormiston loved to read, so much so that his mom would say he forgot to eat because he was reading too much.

Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen knew Ormiston’s family personally and recently attended Ormiston’s Eagle Scout ceremony in Spokane.

“People are supposed to be safe on city sidewalks,” Jensen said. “I don’t want our young children to learn lessons like this ... this time of year, you learn other things and you celebrate graduation and moving on.”

Anderson grew up in the Meridian School District before transferring to Windward. He would have been a sophomore next year.

“He put a smile on everyone’s face. He was a good kid,” said Karly VanderYacht, a Meridian High School student who used to attend school with Anderson.

Classes at Windward were set to continue through the end of this week, though students were told they did not need to take finals if they were satisfied with their grade. Counselors, administrators and teachers were available for students should they need to talk to someone.

A candlelight vigil is scheduled for 9 p.m. Saturday, June 13, at Ferndale’s Centennial Riverwalk Park.

“The Windward community is a very tight, small school,” Quinn, the district superintendent, said, “The kids and teachers are taking care of each other as best we can, but we know as a school district that it’s not going to go away tomorrow.”

Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or wilson.criscione@bellinghamherald.com.

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