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Fixes planned for site of fatal crash after $50M claim

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
  • Juan Mendoza

    Juan Mendoza

MARYSVILLE -- Snohomish County is preparing a safety overhaul of a steep stretch of road where a car crash last fall killed a Marysville Getchell High School student and seriously injured two others.
Some of the same fixes planned for 108th Street NE are the subject of a $50 million legal action brought last year on behalf of one of the injured teens. The damage claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, accuses the county of neglecting to make improvements to an unsafe road.
The claim alleges problems with the slope, limited sight distance and lack of warning signs on 108th Street near 83rd Avenue NE.
"Are they going to agree that they're accountable for this issue?" asked Jim Dore, one of the Kent attorneys who filed the claim. "Maybe that's why they're pushing it through so fast. They don't want to be asked that question by the public."
County prosecutors say the injured teen's lawyers will have the chance to inspect the road and review findings of a collision investigation before any roadwork starts.
The work, which likely will be done this summer, is expected to cost up to $900,000.
The fatal wreck occurred on the afternoon of Oct. 24. Juan Mendoza, 16, died when the Honda Civic he was driving west on 108th Street went off the side of the road and hit a tree. Passenger Lars Kundu, 16, continues to recover from head, spinal and other injuries he received in the crash. Another passenger and fellow student, 17-year-old Andy Vavrousek, had serious injuries.
At the time of the accident, the three students had left school before cross-country practice, planning to return after a trip to a 7-Eleven.
In December, Dore and law partner Ann Deutscher filed a damage claim on behalf of the surviving teens and their families.
In addition to the damage amounts, the families requested that an outside agency, such as the Washington State Patrol, investigate the crash. They also wanted the county to hire an outside consultant, or even appoint a board, to examine future safety improvements.
Vavrousek's family soon withdrew its part of the claim.
Kundu, meanwhile, continues a difficult healing process, according to his attorneys.
"He's doing his best to recover and struggling to recover," Deutscher said.
The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office has yet to release its findings about the cause of the crash, but earlier said speed is believed to have been a factor.
The lack of a collision report -- after seven months -- has been a source of frustration for the Kundus' attorneys. They said they only learned about the planned roadwork through a May 21 letter from the county. The attorneys said they have received no overtures from the county to resolve the case.
"They're trying to change the road, or destroy evidence of the roadway, before we have access to the report," Dore said.
Added Deutscher: "Before we get the report, we're only guessing, we don't know what really needs to be done" to fix the road.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Shari Ireton referred questions about the investigation to the county's civil attorneys. County engineer Owen Carter did the same with questions about the roadwork.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Michael Held said he plans to review a nearly complete collision report from sheriff's investigators in the coming week, then share the information with the Kundus' attorneys.
"The county is not and has no intention of destroying any evidence in this case and certainly does not intend to abridge the interest of any claimants, as far as it regards their claims," Held said.
The hill where the crash occurred is about a mile from Marysville city limits, just east of a bridge over the Centennial Trail.
Heading west from Highway 9, two-lane 108th Street makes a small dip near 83rd Avenue NE, before making a precipitous drop.
Off the right shoulder, a memorial for Mendoza still stands, a metal cross bearing his name surrounded by artificial flowers, a soccer ball and other mementos. A pair of red Nike track shoes hangs from the trunk of a large maple tree. Nearby, red letters painted on a white wooden sign warn that "speed kills."
Since the crash, the county has added temporary electronic speed limit signs on either side of the slope. The devices tell drivers how fast they're going and flash "slow down" if they're traveling faster than the 35 mph speed limit.
County crews hope to finish the road improvements while school is out for the summer. The work will require closing 108th Street between 83rd and the Centennial Trail bridge for up to two months.
"The contour of the roadway will be altered somewhat," Held said.
The Kundus' attorneys will have a chance to inspect the road after receiving information from the crash report, Held said. That may delay the start of the roadwork, he said.
Deutscher said the county put her clients in an awkward position. They want the road to be safe, but they also want a thorough investigation to determine what went wrong.
"More than anything, we want this fixed so no one else gets hurt," Deutscher said.
The county's decision to schedule the roadwork is connected to the approval of a new 10-lot housing development just north of the crash site, Held said.
In November, when the County Council approved the Marysville Highlands subdivision, they committed to a safety review of the 108th Street corridor from 67th Avenue NE to Highway 9.
"As a result of that review, Snohomish County is changing roadway geometry on 108th to improve driveability when drivers are exceeding the speed limit," Held said.
The upcoming road work involves changes over an 800-foot section. Once the work is complete, the county plans to remove the electronic speed limit signs.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465,

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