Traffic deaths alcohol related

A 23-year-old Navy petty officer who was killed in a mysterious accident Jan. 31 had a blood alcohol level at twice the legal limit, according to the Washington State Patrol.

Trooper Bruce Maier said the state lab recently released toxicology reports on Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Walters which show he was “definitely impaired by alcohol.” The legal blood-alcohol limit for driving is 0.08. The lab found that Walters had a level more than twice that when he died.

The accident was the second DUI fatality in North Whidbey in two months. Matthew Rogers, a 21-year-old life-long Whidbey resident, was killed in an alcohol-related accident on Jones Road Dec. 17.

JoAnn Hellmann, coordinator for the Impaired Driving Impact Panel of Island County, said the tragedies should serve as a reminder of the danger of impaired driving. It’s an issue that waxes and wanes in the amount of public attention it receives, but continues to wreak havoc on people’s lives.

“I think it happens here a lot more than people realize,” she said. “If these accidents make people a little more aware, it could have a positive effect.”

Hellmann said Walters’ death has opened a lot of eyes at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. She’s now working with Navy officials on developing a new approach to educate sailors about the realities of drinking and driving. She’s even working with Navy experts on creating a new DVD to show at her presentations.

Hellmann also presents the impact panel, which is open to the public, twice a month. A variety of people — from victims of DUI to police officers and the coroner — speak about the impact and costs impaired driving can have individuals, families and the community.

Also, she presents information about impaired driving, much of which is news to participants.

“For example, there’s a misperception that you to be falling down drunk to be a problem...” she said. “If a person takes blood pressure medication and has one drink, they can be impaired.”

On Jan. 31, Walters was driving a 1999 Honda Civic on Oak Harbor Road on his way to work at the base early in the morning. The car left the roadway to the right and struck a utility pole. The car collided with such force that Walters was killed on impact even though he was wearing a seat belt, the State Patrol report states.

While test results show that Walters was intoxicated, Maier said it’s still a mystery as to why he drove off the side of the road. One possibility was that he simply passed out or fell asleep.

“It’s an unfortunate tragedy,” Maier said, “that took a sailor’s life from a heavy amounts of drinking.”

Hellmann agrees that Walters’ death was a “needless tragedy.” She didn’t know him before the accident, but said she found out afterward that the young sailor was “really a shining star” who had served overseas and received several awards. He was a aviation electronics technician with VAQ-134.

Hellmann said she feels sorry for the friends who saw Walters drinking heavily and didn’t do anything to stop him from driving.

“It would be a terrible stone in their hearts to carry around,” she said.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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