Crime

State rests case in trial of driver who crashed into Ferndale teens

William Jeffrey Klein, back left, the driver accused of hitting four teenage boys and killing two of them in Ferndale in June 2015, appears at his trial in Whatcom County Superior Court with his attorney Michael Brodsky on Wednesday, April 27, 2016.
William Jeffrey Klein, back left, the driver accused of hitting four teenage boys and killing two of them in Ferndale in June 2015, appears at his trial in Whatcom County Superior Court with his attorney Michael Brodsky on Wednesday, April 27, 2016. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Hours after he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into four high school students, a Bellingham driver told a detective that about once a week he felt “very tired” as he drove home.

But he went on to say he didn’t feel any warning signs before the crash.

The last thing William Jeffrey Klein recalled was crossing over the freeway on West Smith Road, a ¾-mile straightaway from Graveline Road, where his Toyota 4Runner crashed onto the sidewalk around 1:30 p.m. June 10, 2015.

Two students of Windward High School were killed. Two others were hurt.

The defense says Klein’s obstructive sleep apnea sometimes made him wake up as often as 30 times per hour. Without treatment for that illness, he was prone to fall into a deep sleep without warning, said his defense attorney Michael Brodsky.

On Thursday the prosecutor, Dave McEachran, played for the jury a recording of a state patrol interview with Klein, as the state laid out its theory of the case Thursday, April 28. Klein is on trial for two charges of vehicular homicide and two of vehicular assault.

Driver statements after crash

On the night before the crash, Klein went to bed around 10:30 p.m., he told the detective. He woke up at 2:45 a.m. for an early shift at Trader Joe’s. He said he’d been getting about four hours of sleep a night for the past four years.

His shift lasted until noon. He ran a quick errand, buying a few gallons of water in Bellingham, before he picked up his son, 3, at a Ferndale daycare. About a quarter-hour later, his 4Runner ran over a curb and into the group of teenagers.

“Do you remember feeling sleepy at all?” asked the detective, Dan Commnick, about three hours later in the hospital.

“Yeah, but not — I, I — there have been times where I have pulled over to take a rest or take a drink of water or to eat,” Klein said. “Because of a somewhat sporadic sleep schedule, I would say once a week I feel very tired driving home.”

“OK. Did you feel that way today?” the detective asked.

“I didn’t feel — I didn’t see any of the warning signs,” Klein said. “Like, I’ve nodded my head before, I felt aware before that moment. The whole thing was very sudden.”

Klein mentioned to the trooper he’d just gotten over an “extreme” case of the flu. He said he’d had a fever of 103 degrees for five days straight. He missed a few days of work with the flu.

Once he came back to Trader Joe’s he seemed sluggish, Spencer Theriault, one of his co-workers, testified Thursday morning.

In the early morning they were working in “the box,” the store’s walk-in refrigerator, moving around milk and food that was shipped in on pallets. It’s hard work, with lots of heavy lifting.

“I did notice he was very tired, not working as fast as he usually does,” Theriault testified. “He just told me he just came off being sick.”

On cross examination Brodsky asked if Theriault thought his coworker seemed OK to drive. The prosecutor objected, but Brodsky was allowed to reframe the question.

“If I was that tired I probably wouldn’t drive,” Theriault answered.

Brodsky asked Theriault if he’d take a ride from him, if offered.

“I would’ve taken a ride from him,” he said.

Coworkers, driver’s wife testify

On that sunny afternoon the Windward boys were on an impromptu walk with their fifth-period class. It was a sunny day in the high 70s, and the last week of school before vacation.

On Thursday morning Whatcom County Medical Examiner Gary Goldfogel testified about the grave injuries they suffered. Shane Lawrence Ormiston, 18, died from blunt trauma. He had just celebrated his graduation. Gabriel Lewis Anderson, 15, a recent transfer to the school, bled to death.

Autopsy photos were not shown to the jury.

The prosecution alleges that Klein drove with a disregard for the safety of others, one of three ways to pursue a charge of vehicular homicide. (The other two are driving while intoxicated and driving in a reckless manner.)

The state rested its case Thursday.

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In the afternoon the defense called two of Klein’s supervisors at Trader Joe’s as witnesses. Both said they didn’t notice anything off about Klein at work on that day, a contrast to Theriault.

The store’s manager, Brian Casey, recalled telling Klein that he looked good, for someone who’d been sick for almost a week.

When he had the flu, he looked dehydrated and emaciated, with no color in his face, testified Joe Reichert, a close friend and coworker who babysat for the Kleins. He looked much better, Reichert said, in the day or two after he came back to work.

Klein’s wife, Sarah, testified about her husband’s sleep patterns. Typically, she said, he had restless sleep, and he snored heavily. She didn’t think there was a serious problem, though.

Her husband got the flu from their son, Jasper, she said. After about five days of being very sick, she testified, he felt good enough to go back to work, but she encouraged him to stay home an extra day to be safe. He did. He went back to work on Tuesday, June 9.

The following afternoon she was getting ready for work when she missed two calls from her husband.

She fought through tears on the witness stand as she recalled phoning him back.

“He was just crying,” she said. “It was hard for him to talk. You could hear Jasper crying in the background. So I believe I just started yelling: ‘Is everything OK? Are you OK?’ He just said: ‘I’m sorry, I love you, I fell asleep, I hit someone.’ That’s all he could say.”

The prosecutor had no questions for Sarah Klein. She was the last witness called this week.

The trial resumes Monday.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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