CAMANO ISLAND — It was a scene of heartbreak and horror along an icy, winding road.
Just before 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 13, 2016, Tanya Canell was driving her minivan along a serpentine section of N. Sunrise Boulevard on Camano Island’s northeast corner. Strapped into car seats in the back were her two daughters, ages 5 months and 3.
The van slipped on an ice patch and slammed into the trees lining the shoulder. It caught fire.
Passersby were able to pull Canell, 23, from the wreck. She had broken legs and burns over 11 percent of her body. The flames claimed her children.
“They are dead, aren’t they?!” an Island County sheriff’s deputy recalled Canell asking.
“I was at a loss for words,” he later wrote in a police report.
The deputy described placing his hand on the young mother’s back, trying to comfort her. She implored those along the roadside that morning to put her back into the burning vehicle, so she could be with her children.
The awful details of the crash were included in court papers filed this week in a lawsuit against Island County.
The case was brought by lawyers representing Canell and her family, and an Island County couple, Ric and Julie Shallow. It alleges that the “S” curve along N. Sunrise Boulevard south of Terry’s Corner has a long history of crashes, and the county a “long standing negligence and indifference to the safety of motorists” along that stretch of road.
Ric Shallow had been planning to head to Kenya for what would have been his fourth trip to help with veterinary care and agricultural development in rural villages.
Instead, he sustained head injuries, broken bones and other damage in January 2016. His sedan hit an icy patch and smacked into a tree. He has since been left unable to work.
The lawsuit includes photographs of how Shallow’s car folded around a tree just feet away from the fog line. Nearby was another tree bearing a memorial cross for a Redmond man, 35, who lost his life in a 2006 crash.
The trees create conditions that make the road particularly vulnerable to icing, and increase the odds of injury when vehicles slip toward the shoulder, the plaintiffs’ attorneys contend. Indeed, they found 16 other crashes along that stretch of road between 2005 and 2016 where drivers lost control. They happened year round.
“The suit against Island County is about justice for our clients and Island County accepting accountability for its negligence,” Mike Maxwell, of Maxwell Graham PS in Bellevue, said in a press release after the lawsuit was filed in Snohomish County Superior Court. Other attorneys in the case include Gregory Marshall, of Everett, and Scott Blair, of Seattle.
Island County in 2017 made changes along N. Sunrise Boulevard, dropping the speed limit through the S curve to 35 mph, repaving and installing a guard rail, the lawsuit says.
The county should have made those changes prior to December 2016, they contend, adding that if it had, Canell and her children would not have been harmed.
The lawsuit was filed after Island County did not address a claim for damages brought in February, court papers say.
Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks said Thursday his office had not yet seen the lawsuit. He anticipated that the county will be defended in the case by a law firm retained by its insurer.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snorthnews.