Two killed in head-on collisionPolice say a driver may have been distracted by an object in the car.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:58 PM
"A highway collision that claimed the lives of two motorists Sunday evening may be blamed on driver inattention.Police say a 52-year-old Sunrise Drive man - whose name was still being withheld Tuesday, because relatives could not be located for notification - might have been reaching for a water bottle on the passenger's side floor when his vehicle veered across the centerline and struck an oncoming car.The man died at the scene, as did the driver of the other vehicle, Donna M. Gurtler, 45, of Poulsbo.The accident was reported about 5:20 p.m. Sunday, just south of Reitan Road. Neither vehicle carried other passengers.Police said the Bainbridge man was driving southbound when his car, a 1991 Volvo 940, crossed the centerline and collided with Gurtler's 1986 Honda Civic. An eyewitness, who was driving behind the man, said the driver leaned across the passenger's seat and disappeared from view, as if he were trying to reach something in the vehicle. By the time he began to sit up at the wheel, the car had drifted into the other lane.Evidence at the scene suggested that Gurtler tried to react, but she had no time and the collision was effectively head-on. Both vehicles were traveling at highway speeds.(She) never had a chance, said Officer Rob Corn, Bainbridge Police traffic investigator.A water bottle with a loose cap was found in the front compartment of the Bainbridge man's car, and police believe he may have been trying to reach for it when the collision occurred.Other possible causes remained under investigation. An autopsy was to be performed Tuesday, which would determine whether the man suffered a medical problem that caused him to slump across the other seat momentarily and lose control of the vehicle.The man's air bag deployed, but he apparently was still leaning away from the wheel at the time of impact. Aid crews rushed him to the fire hall for airlift, but he could not be revived.Gurtler was wearing a seatbelt, but had slipped her arm outside of the shoulder strap, police said. Also, the impact crushed the front of the vehicle and the driver's compartment.The Agate Passage Bridge was closed immediately, and traffic sat backed up for several miles in each direction for the next five hours.A steady stream of pedestrians crossed each way while police were on the scene, as many drivers simply abandoned their vehicles and arranged to meet rides on the other side.Washington State Ferries was immediately notified of the closure. Before drivers purchased tickets to Bainbridge, they were advised of the delay and were advised to take the Edmonds/Kingston or Bremerton boats.Anticipating the problem of Mariners fans who would arrive in large numbers at Colman Dock, ferry officials contacted local radio stations, and an announcement was made at Safeco Field before the game ended.The highway didn't reopen until 10:30 p.m., in part, police said, because it took considerable time to extricate Gurtler's body from the wreckage. Also, state highway department crews were reportedly slow to respond to sand the lanes.The wreck left the roadway slick with spilled oil and radiator fluid, police said; an officer shoveled dirt onto the area until highway crews arrived.But for those delays, police said, the highway would have been opened two hours earlier.The deaths marked the third and fourth highway fatalities on Bainbridge Island in the past two years, with earlier collisions attributed to driver inattention and poor conditions.In September 1999, a 62-year-old Bainbridge woman was killed when her car veered into the oncoming lane near the Sportsman Club Road intersection and struck another vehicle.Three months later, a 55-year-old Kingston man was killed when his vehicle slid on ice and crossed the centerline near the 305/Lovgreen intersection, striking another vehicle. "