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Teen driver won’t face DUI charges

The teenage driver who caused a major crash on Highway 525 in June will not be charged with driving under the influence.

Even though Nicole Parnell, 17, had been arrested after the accident on suspicion of DUI, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said the county does not have enough evidence to press charges.

Banks said that after a thorough review of the facts surrounding the June 16 traffic accident, his office determined the teen driver who caused the collision cannot be prosecuted for DUI.

A Washington State Patrol trooper arrested Parnell after smelling alcohol on the teenager following the high-profile accident.

Banks said that although the officer had probable cause to arrest her, the evidence was not sufficient to prove a case of DUI in court.

“We would have to prove the driver was under the influence — beyond a reasonable doubt,” Banks said.

There were too many unanswered questions in the case that raised doubts about the charge, Banks added.

Parnell caused a two-car crash when she drove into the path of a pick-up truck driven by David Ludy of Langley.

Ludy’s truck broadsided the teen’s Chevrolet Blazer and seriously injured Parnell. Ludy, 71, complained of a sore chest and leg after the accident and was taken to Whidbey General Hospital, according to police records.

Investigators determined that Ludy was not at fault in the accident.

The crash was discovered by Clinton resident Shannon Brown, who came upon the accident scene and gave first aid to the injured driver until medics and police arrived.

A State Patrol investigation report made by a trooper at the scene said the teenager allegedly admitted immediately after the crash that she had been drinking “rum and coke and two or three beers.”

Trooper Jason Nichols went to talk to Parnell, who was strapped to a backboard in an emergency vehicle when he arrived at the scene and wrote in his report that he smelled alcohol on the teenager.

Parnell later allegedly refused to submit to an evidentiary blood test.

The girl’s parents claim that the urgent medical situation prevented her from providing a blood sample, Banks said.

Byron Parnell, Nicole’s father, has repeatedly said from the onset of the investigation that alcohol was not a factor in the crash. He said two blood tests taken after the accident shows his daughter was not a DUI driver.

The prosecutor’s office has been gathering information on the accident for approximately two months.

“We requested a follow-up investigation by the State Patrol and the Sheriff’s Office,” said deputy prosecutor Peter Simpson, who handled the case.

“We also reviewed the driver’s hospital records and interviewed witnesses who had been with her earlier in the evening,” Simpson added.

A key component in the prosecutor’s decision was the fact that the hospital laboratory tests taken at Whidbey General Hospital and Harborview Medical Center hours after the wreck did not show measurable amounts of alcohol in the girl’s blood.

“The alcohol tests from the hospitals are different than what we would see,” Banks said.

“One said that it was negative, presumably indicating none was found, but it may also mean that no significant amount was found for medical treatment purposes,” he added.

“The other test indicated the alcohol level was below 0.05, and I can’t recall the units, but, again, that could mean it was as low as 0.0. We just can’t tell,” Banks said.

However, Simpson said witnesses told him that Parnell and other kids connected to the crash were at a party where alcohol and drugs were being consumed. But witnesses also said they did not see Parnell drink or use drugs that evening.

A female passenger in Parnell’s car fled the scene in a car with a group of teenagers after the crash. All of the teens are from South Whidbey, Banks said.

“Even though we did not have the evidence to prove a DUI case, I hope these kids realize how dangerous it is to drive after drinking or taking drugs,” Banks said.

“Even small amounts can impair judgment, coordination, and perception putting every other innocent driver in danger,” he added.

The case will be returned to the State Patrol to determine whether an citation should be issued to the teenager for causing the accident.

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