July 31, 2013 in City

Driver in double-fatal 2003 crash faces new DUI charge

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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A sign urging motorists to not drive drunk stands in memory of Kyle J. Hutchinson, of Mead, and Walter F. Corman, of Spokane, near Mt. Spokane High School in Mead. Dawn Wiltzius, who is now Dawn Vrentas, was the driver in the crash in which they were killed, and she is again facing felony DUI charges.
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A former Mead woman, who had turned her life around after serving years in prison for driving drunk and killing two friends in a 2003 crash, is again facing felony charges for drinking and driving.

Dawn H. Vrentas, 31, of Edmonds, is being held in jail in King County after she was stopped on suspicion of speeding early Saturday morning by a Washington State Patrol trooper on Interstate 5. The trooper noticed signs of intoxication and a field test showed Vrentas had a blood alcohol content of 0.14 percent, according to court records. The legal limit for driving is 0.08 percent.

Vrentas, whose maiden name is Dawn Wiltzius, had been working since 2009 as a tutor with the Post-Prison Education Program, which helps give ex-convicts the education and skills to keep from committing more crime.

The 9-year-old sign that reads “Please Don’t Drink and Drive” continues to remind drivers next to Mt. Spokane High School about the devastation caused by the 2003 crash. Vrentas crashed into a pond in Pend Oreille County, killing passengers Kyle J. Hutchinson, 20, and Walter F. Corman, 21.

Spokane attorney Joe Blumel, who represented Hutchinson’s parents, was sorry to hear about Vrentas’ recent arrest. She had been “doing very well,” he said.

“It was such a tragic case on so many levels,” he said.

Vrentas is represented by Seattle attorneys Kimberly Gordon and David Hammerstad, who issued a statement in response to questions.

“Since her conviction in Spokane, Ms. Vrentas has done her best to turn her life around and live it in a way that would best honor the memories of those who died,” Gordon wrote. “She has focused on family, the church, her education, hard work at multiple jobs, giving back to the community through tireless work at a nonprofit, and outreach to current and former prisoners. 

“But as this allegation suggests, she is still human and therefore subject to mistakes in behavior and judgment.”

The Hutchinsons have moved from Spokane and could not be reached. Efforts to reach Corman’s parents were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Vrentas had been convicted of DUI in 2000, before the crash that changed so many lives on Aug. 2, 2003.

Vrentas – then Wiltzius – was driving on Highway 211 as she returned from her grandfather’s 79th birthday celebration at Gillette Lake in northern Stevens County. Vrentas told investigators she was driving too fast when she lost control of her car on a curve.

The 1998 Honda Prelude spun around and skidded several hundred feet in a roadside ditch before it sank into a pond. Vrentas escaped but could not rescue Hutchinson. She hailed help from other motorists, but both young men were declared dead at the scene.

A judge sentenced Vrentas to 5 ½ years in prison in June 2004 and Vrentas made a brief statement, according to newspaper archives.

“I can only imagine the pain of having to bury your own child,” she said, also noting Corman had been her boyfriend.

In the courtroom, Corman’s mother, Judy Miller, asked Vrentas to earn her chance at redemption.

“We don’t need a third tragedy, dear,” Miller said at the sentencing. “You owe a life well lived.”

Following her conviction, Vrentas settled civil lawsuits with the families for about $2 million combined. She was released from prison in 2007 and began working with ex-convicts in 2009.

Ari Kohn, president of the Post-Prison Education Program, told KIRO Radio that he knew about Vrentas’ past when he hired her.

“And, frankly, I didn’t give a damn. She’s smarter than hell,” Kohn said. “The prisoners love working with her.”

Vrentas had been employed by the city of Edmonds and is attending the University of Washington for her master’s degree in social work, Gordon said.

But in court, King County Superior Court Judge Arthur Chapman noted Vrentas’ past, which included drinking at a party as she waited for her vehicular homicide trial, in setting a high bond.

“There’s very little in the court’s view that could justify these allegations,” Chapman said, according the KIRO report.

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