Lawsuits filed over Tolo Road fatality

The family of the 14-year-old victim charges negligence by youths and parents.

The family of an island teen killed in a Tolo Road crash last August has filed a civil lawsuit against two 14-year-old girls in the car that night, and their parents.

The lawsuit names two of the eight Bainbridge teens involved in the crash: the girl who took her parents’ 2003 Ford Explorer out for a joyride, and the girl who was behind the wheel at the time of the crash. Both girls have since been prosecuted in juvenile court.

Plaintiffs in the case are victim Sarah Gillette’s mother Caroline Brooks of Bainbridge Island; her father Christopher Gillette of Great Falls, Mont.; and the girl’s twin sister and brother. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for emotional distress, the loss of the teenager’s future earnings and her companionship.

Caroline Brooks declined Monday to comment on the case.

Filed in Kitsap County Superior Court last week, the lawsuit alleges negligence on the part of two 14-year-old girls and their parents, charges the father of one of the girls disputed this week.

“I don’t think anyone who knows us would think that we would put our daughter in harm’s way, let alone any other child,” said the father of the driver, who pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in December.

“My daughter is paying as high a price as any person can pay,” he said. “She is incarcerated and my wife is in declining health. My focus is to take care of my wife, and to help my daughter recover and meet her obligations for what she has admitted doing.”

The driver of the vehicle, who pleaded guilty and was placed in a juvenile facility in January, is set to be released in May.

The Review is witholding the names of the defendants and all of the teens involved in the crash because they are minors.

Eight teenagers, including four boys ages 16-17, crammed into the SUV on Aug. 23, 2004, and decided to “do the Tolo” – speeding up and down the narrow, undulating roadway.

They were traveling in excess of 85 mph when the one of the girls lost control, and the vehicle struck two trees and rolled onto its roof.

Sarah Gillette was was thrown from the car and pronounced dead at the scene. The others were airlifted to Seattle with various injuries, some serious.

The complaint alleges that the parents of the girls were negligent for failing to prevent them from taking the car and driving it, stating that the parents “knew or should have known” that the car had been taken out, with teenage passengers, on other occasions in 2004, a charge the parents have denied.

The mother of the girl who took the car that night, this week called the allegations “ridiculous and slanderous,” adding “of course we deny all the charges.”

Her daughter pleaded guilty in January to felony vehicle theft and served 20 days in detention. She now resides at a boarding school off the island.

Earlier this year Caroline Brooks and her husband Anson Brooks lobbied Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island) to sponsor new legislation that would impose stiff fines and up to a year in jail for parents who “knew or should have known” that their children’s activities could result in death or injury.

But after researching the issue for several months, Rockefeller declined to sponsor such a bill.

Legislation imposing “vicarious liability” on the parents of juvenile offenders had been discussed and repeatedly rejected by Washington State lawmakers, he said.

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