State settles for $8.5M after impaired driver killed couple on Whidbey

The complaint alleged Mukilteo-Clinton ferry staff made errors that allowed Danielle Cruz, of Lynnwood, to drive impaired into Clinton.

The state Department of Transportation has reached a settlement to pay $8.5 million to families of an elderly Everett couple struck and killed by an impaired driver on Whidbey Island.

A lawsuit in the deaths of life partners Kenneth Weikle, 78, and Sharon Gamble, 77, was settled Friday in Snohomish County Superior Court. The couple was fatally struck by a driver coming off of a ferry, despite reports from passengers and crew beforehand that she appeared to be intoxicated.

A complaint filed in 2022 alleged ferry staff made multiple errors that allowed Danielle Cruz, of Lynnwood, to drive into Clinton while impaired.

In October, Cruz pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide while under the influence. She was sentenced to over 17 years in prison.

“No known impaired driver should ever be allowed to disembark from a Washington State Ferry,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Olson wrote in a press release. “The families of Sharon and Ken hope that the Washington State Department of Transportation learns from this expensive lawsuit and takes the necessary steps to make sure that this never happens again.”

On Dec. 18, 2021, Cruz drove her Ford Explorer to the Mukilteo ferry terminal, according to court papers. Witnesses reported she drove erratically. Once she got a ferry ticket to Clinton, she rear-ended another car in her ferry lane, police reported.

State ferry 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 reported the crash to ferry staff.

Crews attempted to see if a Washington State Patrol trooper on Whidbey Island could meet the boat at the terminal on the other side, but no one was reportedly available. When they arrived in Clinton, staff found Cruz asleep at the wheel, according to court papers. It took multiple attempts for crew members to wake her up. She drove off the boat.

Moments later, Cruz crossed the center line on Highway 525 near Campbell Road, striking a Mercedes occupied by Weikle and Gamble. Gamble died immediately from blunt force injuries. Weikle was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he died from his injuries.

Investigators later found Cruz’s blood tested positive for fentanyl, amphetamine and methamphetamine, according to court papers.

“I wish this accident took my life instead of theirs a thousand times over,” she wrote in a statement at her sentencing.

In later testimony for the civil case, staff reported they did not receive proper training.

“While the Washington State Ferries are part of the Washington State highway system, the crew members did not feel that they were trained to deal with an obviously intoxicated driver,” the plaintiffs’ attorney wrote.

Weikle was survived by six children and four grandchildren, according to the press release. Gamble was survived by two sons and four grandchildren.

“The Estates of Sharon and Ken hope that some good will come from this tragic and expensive lawsuit in the form of training,” Olson wrote. “Every employee of the Washington State Ferries should be trained to recognize the signs of driver impairment from drugs or alcohol.”