Immediately after the crash that killed Sharon Gamble and Kenneth Weikle last year on Whidbey Island, their families knew something was wrong.
They knew there was more to it than the suspected driver’s intoxication, said Neil Lindquist, one of several lawyers for the families.
The families believe they’re right, so much so they filed a lawsuit Monday in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Washington State Ferries employees made a series of mistakes that allowed Danielle Cruz to remain behind the wheel after crossing from Mukilteo to Clinton in December 2021, the complaint alleges.
“This whole accident, and these deaths, were preventable,” Lindquist said Wednesday. “Their conduct facilitated the accident.”
A spokesperson for the ferry system, part of the state Department of Transportation, declined to comment since the litigation is pending.
On Dec. 18, 2021, Cruz was driving her Ford Explorer toward the Mukilteo ferry terminal, according to court papers. Witnesses reported she drove erratically, as she stopped at a green light, swerved across lanes and drove over a curb.
Once she got a ferry ticket to Clinton, she rear-ended another car in her ferry lane, police reported.
State ferries employees saw the crash, but still ordered Cruz to get on the ferry to Whidbey Island despite her appearing “obviously impaired,” the lawsuit states.
Passengers behind Cruz reported the crash and Cruz’s impairment to ferry staff who called the command center on the island to see if a Washington State Patrol trooper could meet the vessel. But none were available. They made no effort to contact local police as an alternative, according to the complaint. A crewmember told the passengers to call 911.
When the ferry arrived in Clinton, everyone got off the ship, except Cruz. She had reportedly fallen asleep over her steering wheel.
Ferry staff tried to rouse her, but were unsuccessful. Finally, with the help of more employees, they were able to wake Cruz up. The lawsuit alleges the state Department of Transportation destroyed surveillance video showing this.
“At this point, WSF staff had already observed Cruz strike another vehicle in the ferry lineup, they had received passenger reports of Cruz’s intoxication, they called to request assistance from Washington State Patrol, they required the assistance of multiple crewmembers to wake her up from her unconscious state,” the lawsuit reads. “Despite being informed that Cruz was impaired, the Vessel’s crew directed Cruz to drive her vehicle off the ferry.”
Another one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, Mike Maxwell, argued staff “had a duty to do more to prevent her from going out on public roads.”
Once off the ship, she almost veered into a truck waiting to board the ferry, a crewmember reported.
“This is giving me a pit in my stomach,” the staffer reportedly told a coworker. “Something is going to happen.”
Moments later, around 1 p.m., Cruz crossed over the center line on Highway 525 near Campbell Road, hitting the Mercedes occupied by Gamble, 77, and Weikle, 78. Gamble died at the scene. Almost two weeks later, Weikle died from his injuries. They were both from Everett.
Cruz was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Late last month, Island County prosecutors charged Cruz, 40, with two counts of vehicular homicide. The Lynnwood woman is set to be arraigned Monday. She remained out of custody this week, under a judge’s order not to possess alcohol or drugs.
The families in the lawsuit are represented by Maxwell and Thomas Degan of Maxwell Graham, Lindquist of Kornfeld Law and Mark Olson of the Olson Law Firm.