Photo courtesy of plaintiffs’ attorneys
                                A Ford Fusion and a Mitsubishi Eclipse collided on Highway 522 in 2014. Three people were killed.

Photo courtesy of plaintiffs’ attorneys A Ford Fusion and a Mitsubishi Eclipse collided on Highway 522 in 2014. Three people were killed.

State pays $3M to settle lawsuit over deaths on Highway 522

The plaintiffs represent the families of three people who were killed in a head-on crash in 2014.

MONROE — Stanley and Joan Kinger were leaving their daughter’s house in Monroe.

They’d brought lemon cookies and fresh-caught fish to share. Their daughter, Lynn Wood, installed software on their laptop so they could video-chat with a pregnant granddaughter in Alaska.

On the way home, the Kingers’ vehicle was struck head-on while traveling Highway 522, near Fales Road. The Kingers, both in their 70s, died from their injuries, as did Isabella Bednarski, the other driver’s baby girl. That was in 2014.

On Feb. 22, a Snohomish County court commissioner approved a $3 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Washington State Department of Transportation. The families of the deceased alleged the stretch of the highway involved was “inherently dangerous” and needed median barriers. The state said the roadway was safe, and pointed to funding challenges with the Legislature.

In the settlement, the state did not admit liability and the plaintiffs ended their suit, canceling a June trial. Each family’s estate will receive $1.5 million before legal fees.

WSDOT declined to comment for this story.

Joan and Stanley Kinger (Family photo)

Joan and Stanley Kinger (Family photo)

Keith Kessler, who represented the Kingers’ estate, provided a statement Thursday via email.

“While it’s true that we have settled our claims against the state on behalf of the Kinger family, they remain upset that the hazard of fatal cross-over collisions continues unabated,” he said. “They are actively participating in the Finish 522 campaign to persuade legislators and (the state) to expand the middle section of 522 and add the jersey barrier that was planned out several years ago. They feel that otherwise their parents’ deaths were in vain.”

Wood, the daughter, says she has to drive past the scene on her way to work.

“The road is still unsafe,” she said in a prepared statement. “I have personally witnessed three accidents close to where my parents were killed, and I have seen skid marks from other accidents.”

Isabella Rose Bednarski (Family photo)

Isabella Rose Bednarski (Family photo)

Until 2003, Highway 522 was two lanes starting east of Highway 9 and into Monroe. Since then, the state has undertaken a long-term plan to widen the length of it to four lanes, with median barriers. The work is getting done in phases. About two-thirds is completed but not in the area of the 2014 fatalities.

The #Finish522 coalition, which includes civic, business and political leaders, is seeking state funds to finish the last piece, a three-mile stretch from Paradise Lake Road to the Snohomish River where the highway is reduced to two lanes. The project also includes designing a new intersection at Paradise Lake Road.

It’s estimated $160 million is needed for all the work.

The state says the stretch of highway in question was “in reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel.” The plaintiffs say it was “inherently dangerous.” (Washington State Department of Transportation)

The state says the stretch of highway in question was “in reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel.” The plaintiffs say it was “inherently dangerous.” (Washington State Department of Transportation)

Thus far, the Legislature has provided $750,000 to get initial design work going for the intersection. Another $10 million is earmarked from a previous transportation package. But the money will not be available until 2025 and will not be enough to cover final project design, environmental work, right-of-way acquisition and construction.

Coalition members are working to get access to the $10 million sooner to speed up the project. They are expected to return to Olympia in late March.

For now, Highway 522 has rumble strips between opposite lanes along the section near Fales Road.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @rikkiking.

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