August 30, 2011 in City

Hit-and-run questions linger

Teen may face criminal proceedings in death of cyclist
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Helen Widener, wife of the bicyclist who died following a hit-and-run crash in June, says she is taking it day by day. A suspect has been identified but not charged.
(Full-size photo)

For Helen Widener, the days haven’t gotten easier.

When Spokane police first identified a suspect in the hit-and-run crash that led to the death of her husband, Dennis Widener, last month, she wondered if she might be able to meet with her and make peace.

But as the days passed, she realized how impossible that seemed.

“I wake up with a broken heart every morning,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who did it. He’s still gone.”

Spokane police Cpl. Brad Hallock this week recommended prosecutors charge the suspected driver, 18-year-old Megan C. Skillingstad, with failure to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in death. Deputy Prosecutor Mary Ann Brady is reviewing the case. She expects Skillingstad to be summoned to court for an arraignment after formal charges are filed.

Dennis Widener, 66, was struck June 23 as he rode his bike on Empire Avenue at North Division Street, just blocks from his home. He died July 6.

It took six weeks to identify a suspect. Helen Widener worried police would never find one, and she created an image in her head of what the perpetrator might look like.

“Drug-addicted crack addict in a stolen car,” Widener said. “Somebody I could openly, clearly hate. But it didn’t turn out that way.”

Skillingstad was a star softball player at Shadle Park High School and is to play at Spokane Community College in the fall. She has no criminal record.

Skillingstad did not return a phone call seeking comment. Her lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, has not responded to phone messages seeking comment.

Hallock seized Skillingstad’s 1996 Nissan Sentra on Aug. 5, one day after a friend called police and said she’d been trying – to no avail - to persuade Skillingstad to turn herself in.

Skillingstad’s father, Steve Skillingstad, answered the door and nodded when Hallock said, “You know why I’m here.”

Hallock said it appears Megan Skillingstad had recently told her father about the crash, and that the family had already contacted a lawyer.

“So they may have been in the process of contacting us, and I just got there first,” Hallock said. “It’s hard to say.”

“Nobody in the family is talking to me about the case,” Hallock said.

For Skillingstad to be charged with vehicular homicide, investigators need to show that she was driving recklessly, with a disregard for the lives of others, or she was intoxicated. Eight weeks after the crash, there was no evidence to show that.

“Based on the info I have at this time, there isn’t probable cause to charge vehicular homicide,” Hallock said last week.

He said he’ll continue to try to secure an interview with Skillingstad through her lawyer.

“I’m just hoping we can set that up and she’ll get an opportunity to tell her side of the story,” Hallock said.

Meanwhile, a white bike sits at the crash site in honor of Dennis Widener. The bikes are left at the scenes of fatal bike crashes across the country.

Helen Widener, who had been planning the couple’s 25th anniversary celebration when he died, said she tries to avoid the area, but it’s difficult. Her son, who is disabled and was heavily dependent on his father, requires prescription medicine that’s available at the Walgreens just down the street.

“It’s just natural that I go by there,” she said. She hopes others read about the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death and the ripple effect it’s had on not only his family, but the suspect’s family.

“You can’t just live for yourself,” Widener said.

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