BELLINGHAM — Hours before police say he plowed his truck into four pedestrians in Bellingham, Dustin Frederick Brown sent text messages to friends saying he was too drunk to drive.
But in an interview with a detective afterward he insisted he only had one beer and that his truck was “possessed” as it took him on “an amusement ride from hell.”
Those details emerged in investigative records released to The Bellingham Herald under a public records request.
Brown’s souped-up Ford F-350 fishtailed out of control as he gunned the engine early on May 26 as people were leaving bars downtown, police say. Four pedestrians were hit. One, Dragan Skrobonja, 37, was killed. The truck continued on, striking parked and moving cars, until it came to rest against a barrier fence that kept it from plunging over a 10-foot drop.
A crowd surrounded the truck and pulled the driver out, detaining him as officers arrived, police said. Many people had been out celebrating the city’s annual Ski to Sea race, a seven-sport relay race that covers 93 miles from Mount Baker to Bellingham Bay.
Brown faces charges of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault. Police say a breath test showed his blood-alcohol content to be nearly three times the legal limit.
The records say Brown had been drinking at the Up &Up tavern that evening when he texted two friends searching for a place to stay.
“So I’m downtown and shouldnt drive,” Brown wrote one at 9:36 p.m. “Wanna volunteer to house me?”
“Shoot can’t help you senor,” she answered.
He texted her again just after 10 p.m. “Im never lookin for help … Except now… But ok.”
Thirty seconds later Brown texted the second, saying he was intoxicated and “dont wanna drive home.”
“I’m headed down to Bellevue now,” she replied. “Otherwise I would invite you to crash at my place.”
Instead, witnesses said, Brown continued drinking and buying pitchers of beer for others. One, Jeremy Evans, 25, said Brown seemed extremely intoxicated and spilled beer as he poured it into his glass.
In an interview at a hospital three hours after the crash, Detective Pauline Renick asked Brown if he had been drinking.
“I had a few drinks,” he said, at first, according to a transcript.
But when pressed for details, Brown’s recollection changed. He insisted he’d only had one pint. He explained how he bought a pitcher, poured one glass for himself and gave the rest to two girls he’d just met. Brown drank no other alcohol, he said, before getting into his truck at 1:30 a.m.
The detective said that didn’t jibe with the results of his breath test, and that he still smelled of alcohol.
Brown insisted he was being honest, and told police he desperately wanted to stop but the throttle had stuck. The truck was “literally possessed,” he said.
“I was along for the ride,” Brown said to the detective. “I was bleeding everywhere, and my glasses — I couldn’t really see, I was just on a terrible — an amusement ride from hell, pretty much.”
A mechanic consulted by police reported that it wasn’t possible for the throttle to stick the way Brown described and that the accelerator worked fine.
One witness, Tyler Dixon, told police that toward the end of the truck’s rampage, it hit two more parked cars and went into reverse and then drive again. Dixon said he took advantage of the pause to jump onto the truck’s step bar, grab the driver through the window and pummel him. The driver slumped to the side, and the truck stopped against the barrier. Dixon suffered a fractured knuckle.
Brown, 28, remains in Whatcom County Jail on $500,000 bail. Brown’s next court hearing has been set for Sept. 10, with a tentative trial date of Sept. 22. His public defender, Darrin Hall, said Skrobonja’s death has been difficult for everybody, including Brown.
“It haunts him every day,” Hall said, “because people’s lives are ruined when lives are lost.”