A Bellingham driver had no THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his bloodstream when his SUV crashed into four Windward High School students, killing two, earlier this summer.
State troopers at first claimed William Jeffrey Klein, 34, admitted he used marijuana before he crashed his SUV into four high school boys on the afternoon of June 10 on the sidewalk of West Smith Road.
“We believe he is impaired by drugs, I’ll keep it generic like that, and initially by his admission,” Trooper Mark Francis, of the Washington State Patrol, told media that afternoon.
A few days later, however, charging papers clarified what Klein really said.
“Mr. Klein was asked if he used drugs and he indicated that he did not, but stated that he smoked marihuana (sic) on a daily basis,” charging papers say. “However, he indicated that he had not used marihuana yet today.”
The crash killed Shane Ormiston, 18, and Gabriel Anderson, 15. Two other teenage boys were rushed to the hospital with fractured left femurs and other injuries. They had been walking east of Ferndale in a group of about 30 Windward High School students on a gym class walk near Graveline Road around 1:30 p.m.
Until now the county prosecutor’s office declined to release the results of Klein’s toxicology tests. Prosecutor Dave McEachran confirmed Friday, Sept. 4, that the first tests came back negative for any drugs, but that another, more extensive round of drug tests should be done as soon as next week.
Only 8 nanograms of carboxy-THC — a metabolite of cannabis that can linger in the body for weeks — were found per milliliter in Klein’s blood, but no active THC. The legal limit of active tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is 5 nanograms per milliliter under Washington’s new recreational marijuana laws.
That first round of tests was completed July 21, said defense attorney Michael Brodsky, who is representing Klein.
Samples of Klein’s blood were sent out for broader tests for other drugs and sedatives, e.g. Ambien, that could have made Klein a danger on the road. Those tests are due to be released next week.
Brodsky said he’s confident the more in-depth tests will come back negative, too. He said the case, while tragic, should be dismissed by the prosecutor.
“Frankly,” Brodsky said, “I’m a little baffled and disappointed. There was a rush to judgment that he was impaired.”
“Not every accident is a crime,” he added.
McEachran plans to meet with the families of Shane Ormiston and Gabriel Anderson soon, as he decides how the case should move forward. He pointed out that even if Klein wasn’t impaired, he’s also been charged through the two other prongs of the state’s vehicular homicide law. Charging papers from June accuse Klein of driving impaired, “and/or … in a reckless manner,” “and/or … with a disregard for the safety of others.”
Moments after the crash Klein told a witness, the gym teacher, that he fell asleep at the wheel. That’s accurate, Brodsky said Friday.
The defense attorney, however, challenged another key accusation in charging papers, that shortly after the crash Klein curled up on the passenger seat of his black ’85 Toyota 4Runner, fell asleep again, and needed to be shaken awake by the trooper, Mike Rudy.
“Trooper Rudy shook Mr. Klein and he slowly sat up,” the charges state. “He had blood shot watery eyes and a flushed face” — because he’d been crying, Brodsky said, holding his 3-year-old son, in shock. But not asleep.
“It’s clear that the officer saw what he wanted to see,” Brodsky said.
Other than the trooper’s word, there’s no proof that Klein fell asleep in the car, Brodsky said. And so far, he added, troopers have lacked credibility in this case.
State troopers maintain that carboxy-THC can still impair drivers, and that it’s up to the prosecutor what charges to put before a jury, Francis said Friday.
Klein has been out of jail on $200,000 bond since June 12. He’s charged with two counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of vehicular assault.
Shane Ormiston, an Eagle Scout, died one day after his graduation ceremony. Gabe Anderson, a freshman, had just transferred to Windward from the Meridian School District.
“I want to make sure everyone understands how awful Mr. Klein feels,” Brodsky said, “about everything.”