It started with a bang, and the Toyota Camry went flying.
Kagney Barger was the first in a line of four cars stopped by a construction flagger on May 28, 2014, in road work on U.S. Highway 2 west of Airway Heights, when a fifth vehicle arrived and everything went horribly wrong.
“I remember it vividly,” said Barger, who lived farther west in Davenport at the time. “I was the last one he hit. (The Camry) literally flew in the air. I had never seen that before.”
The driver who smashed into the line of four cars was 49-year-old Bryant Blake, who at the time was working for the Washington State Patrol and was assigned to a local investigative task force headed up by the FBI, WSP Trooper Jeff Sevigney confirmed.
However, the crash incident report does not indicate whether the troopers who investigated their fellow employee either cited Blake, listed excessive speed or tested to see if he had been drinking.
Asked whether the WSP investigated a member of its own agency, Sevigney said that they had. “We investigated a collision involving one of our employees,” he said. “That is not uncommon.”
Asked whether the WSP either cited or disciplined Blake for causing the crash that injured several people, Sevigney said he could not give a direct answer.
“Because there is litigation involved, your information request was forwarded to the Office of Government and Media Relations in Olympia,” he said.
That office did not respond to that request by The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday.
The litigation took a new turn last week. Robert Zeoli, 66, and his attorney, Charles Conrad, filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court seeking damages from the FBI and Blake for causing the crash.
“I remember stopping at the flagman,” said Zeoli, who was driving a 1991 GMC Jimmy that was third in the four-car lineup. “I remember a bang and waking up looking out the driver’s side window. I saw a fireman. He said, ‘We’ve got to cut you out of there.’”
Blake’s Dodge pickup hit so hard that it sent the 2009 Toyota Camry flying after it struck the rear of Zeoli’s Jimmy. Blake’s pickup then spun around and its driver’s side struck Zeoli’s Jimmy again.
Blake’s pickup then crossed the westbound lane and came to a rest on the westbound shoulder facing the same eastbound direction he was driving when he smashed into the stationary vehicles, according to the collision report.
Zeoli suffered bleeding of the brain, which has left him with permanent memory loss and unable to work, he said.
“It seems like every week it gets worse and worse,” said Zeoli, who is still paying off his hospital bills. “I’ve been thinking about suicide a lot because things are so bad.”
Before the crash, Zeoli made a career as a commercial painter. A four-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Zeoli painted everything from airplanes to collector cars.
“I used to have a tidy house. I’m so embarrassed. I can’t have anyone over,” he said. “I’m afraid to put things away because I can’t remember where I put them. I get lost a lot when I drive around.”
Barger, who now lives in Colorado Springs, said she too hired an attorney to pursue a lawsuit against Blake. She underwent weeks of physical therapy from the crash, which totaled her 2007 Nissan Versa.
“I want my medical bills paid,” she said.
Barger said the driver of the Camry, Ivan Babak of Soap Lake, also had to be extricated from his car and she learned he spent weeks in and out of an intensive care unit.
“I have no idea” how fast Blake was driving, she said. “But the fact that you could hit somebody and cause the car to fly in the air, I’m assuming fast.”
Barger had her 2-year-old son in a safety seat in her car at the time of the crash. “I was terrified something had happened to him. The lady behind me had her granddaughter in the car.”
Like Zeoli and Conrad, Barger said she’s never heard whether Blake received so much as a citation for the crash.
Blake “was taken by police immediately after the crash,” she said. “I’m assuming it was FBI. They were in suits and took him in an SUV.”
Efforts on Wednesday to reach Blake were unsuccessful. A call to the number he listed in the collision report went to a different WSP employee in Olympia. That woman said she could not find anyone named Bryant Blake in the current WSP phone directory.
Conrad, Zeoli’s attorney, said he couldn’t say whether the WSP handled the crash investigation correctly.
“All I know is,” Conrad said, “this isn’t how the police report would be written if you or I was involved.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter