Lawyer: Teen to plead guilty in crash

A 14-year-old Bainbridge girl, behind the wheel of a speeding SUV that crashed and killed another teen in August, will plead guilty to vehicular homicide at her juvenile court arraignment next Thursday, her attorneys said.

The defendant, who is not being named in the newspaper because she is a minor, faces a maximum sentence of nine months in juvenile prison if convicted.

Prosecutors charged her Wednesday with a second count of driving without a license, which could add another month to a potential prison sentence.

“From the very beginning, our client has accepted responsibility for her role in the tragic accident that took the life of Sarah Gillette,” defense attorney L. Song Richardson said in a statement after the girl was charged.

Richardson said she met with prosecutors before the charges were filed “to explain that our client wanted to admit her mistakes, and that she would plead guilty to vehicular homicide. Our goal in this case is to present the court with the whole truth about what happened on that tragic night and to fashion a resolution that will help make sure that an accident like this does not happen again.”

Eight island teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 were crammed into the Ford Explorer in the early morning hours of Aug. 23, when the driver lost control on Tolo Road’s dark, rain-slicked hills and crashed into the trees, according to court records and witness accounts.

Gillette, 16, was killed instantly. Emergency crews airlifted four seriously injured male passengers to Harborview Medical Center, where they remained for some time.

The driver and another 14-year-old girl were treated and released.

Todd Dowell, senior deputy prosecutor for Kitsap County, declined to comment on whether the youths were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

But he did say that charges may yet be filed against the second 14-year-old girl in the case, who is alleged to have taken the SUV without permission.

Theoretically, Dowell said, the driver could also have been charged with four separate charges in connection with the injuries to the passengers.

Considering the seriousness of the case against the girl, the final charging decision was deemed appropriate, he said.

“We don’t get too many juvenile homicide cases, and when we are dealing with a case of this breadth and gravity, we are going to give it careful consideration,” he said. “We wanted to evaluate the potential charges in all of the reports.”

If convicted, the driver also may be sentenced to a maximum of 150 hours of community service and 12 months probation.

Risky behavior

The case has proven tragic on a number of fronts.

On the late August weekend that it happened, the crash was the second fatal accident to claim the life of an island teenager, ushering in a period of mourning and soul-searching by parents, teens, and the island community at large.

But the impact on high-risk behavior and partying was short-lived, according to some students and the principal at Bainbridge High School, where all but one of the crash victims was a student.

The car was going an estimated 85 mph in the 30-mph zone when it careened off Tolo Road, court records show.

The steep, narrow road is said to attract thrill-seekers who gun their cars up to the top of the hills in an attempt to briefly become airborne, so that the passengers’ heads hit the interior roof in a pastime known as “roofing.”

Sometimes, sources say, the activity includes pot-smoking and drinking.

“It hasn’t really affected anything,” Bainbridge High School sophomore Lauren Silk said.

“There was a lot of attention to (the crash) in the beginning, but everybody just dropped the subject about two weeks into school,” she said.

“There’s still a lot of reckless driving on the island.”

The fact that life returned to normal so quickly was a “a mixed blessing,” said another sophomore who declined to give her name.

“Most of the people who were in the accident are being treated like nothing is different, and that’s good,” the girl said. “But it’s bad because it’s not a reminder. People still go out partying and speeding down the hills.

“This is not going to stop what goes on, on this island.”

Bainbridge High School Principal Brent Peterson said everyone on campus has been affected by the crash, “especially the kids closest to it, who knew Sarah or her (twin) sister, and the others involved,” he said.

“I’d love to be able to say an incident like this has a dramatic and lasting impact on the behavior of others, but I don’t see the evidence to support that,” Peterson said.

“We have students continuing to engage in risky behaviors, and for some this tragedy had only a temporary impact on the choices they are making.”

The 14-year-old driver has transferred out of Bainbridge High School, where she was a sophomore.

Several classmates said she was harassed by students upset over Gillette’s death, “which was really wrong,” one student said.

“She and her family made a decision to relocate,” Peterson said. “There was a lot of attention focused on her, and not all of it was positive.”

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