August 5, 2011 in City, News

Suspect identified in crash that killed bicyclist

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A suspect has been identified in a June hit-and-run crash that led to a 66-year-old Spokane man’s death.

Spokane police today seized a 1996 Nissan Sentra that they believe 18-year-old Megan C. Skillingstad was driving when she struck Dennis Widener on June 23. Widener died of his injuries two weeks later.

Cpl. Brad Hallock said Skillingstad, who has not been arrested and has no criminal history, faces a charge of failure to leave information at the scene of a collision resulting in death.

To be charged with vehicular homicide, police must believe a suspect was impaired, driving recklessly or with a disregard for safety, and Hallock said there’s no evidence of that.

Skillingstad “may have been on her way to work” when she was driving north on North Division Street at 4:38 a.m. and struck Widener, who was riding his bike on East Empire Avenue, Hallock said.

An acquaintance of Skillingstad tipped police to her involvement on Thursday, Hallock said.

Hallock and another detective went to Skillingstad’s family’s home in northwest Spokane on Friday and saw the suspect vehicle out front.

The car’s color is similar to a paint chip removed from Widener’s bicycle, and damage to the left side of the front bumper was consistent with the collision, according to a search warrant. Hallock said the suspect’s father, Steve Skillingstad, answered the door and nodded when Hallock said, “You know why I’m here.”

Hallock told Megan Skillingstad that he thought she left the scene of the crash because she was scared. The suspect “began crying and nodded her head,” according to the warrant.

Hallock said the Skillingstads have hired Spokane lawyer Carl Oreskovich, who was unavailable for comment late Friday afternoon.

Skillingstad was a star softball catcher at Shadle Park High School and is to play for Spokane Community College next year.

Hallock said a tip from the acquaintance was instrumental in identifying Skillingstad.

“I’m not saying it never would have been solved, but it certainly would have been much more difficult without the assistance of a concerned citizen,” Hallock said.

The tipster told police she tried to persuade Skillinstad to turn herself in several times and to tell her parents, but Skillingstad refused, “saying she was too scared to tell them.” She said Skillingstad said just after the collision that she didn’t believe she’d killed the bicyclist. When she later learned he’d died, she “immediately began to cry and became very upset,” the tipster told police.

Widener, a former Army paratrooper, told The Spokesman-Review a week before he died that he was riding his bicycle early in the morning to avoid traffic. Diagnosed with emphysema, Widener said he was exercising at the recommendation of his doctor. He was carrying a portable oxygen unit and was wearing a helmet.

“I looked both ways. I am always careful,” Widener said, according to a previous report. He said he saw the car at the last second. Pedestrians at a nearby parking lot ran to his aid.

He was initially expected to survive his injuries, which included several broken ribs, but a blood clot traveled to his lungs from deep within his body and killed him July 6.

Failure to leave information at the scene of a collision resulting in death is a class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but Hallock said a defendant with no criminal history likely faces far less time.

Skillingstad likely will be summoned to court once prosecutors formally charge her, Hallock said.


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