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Teen driver was DUI, police say

COUPEVILLE — Alcohol may have played a role in the car crash that seriously injured South Whidbey High School student Nicole Parnell.

Washington State Patrol records released this week indicate that Parnell was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence following the Highway 525 accident on June 16.

Byron Parnell, Nicole’s father, said alcohol was not a factor in the crash. He said a blood test taken after the accident shows his daughter was not a DUI driver.

Few details of the crash were available before Thursday, when police records were released to The Record following a public information request made by the newspaper.

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

The report, dated the same day as the accident, said an aid crew at the scene declined to take a blood draw from the teenager because they had to get her quickly to the hospital. The report also said Parnell, 17, refused blood tests later after a State Trooper contacted her at the hospital two hours after the crash.

The case has been referred to the Island County Prosecutor’s Office. It’s now up to Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks to decide if he will file charges related to the accident.

Parnell was driving a

1997 Chevy Blazer on Crawford Road, when she turned left onto Highway 525, according to a State Patrol collision report that was written at the scene. Parnell drove onto Highway 525 and into the path of a 1998 Ford F-150 pick-up truck driven by David Ludy of Langley.

The vehicles collided and spun out of control, according to the report. The vehicles came to a stop on the south side of the highway.

The side and the driver’s compartment of Parnell’s car was pushed in by 1 to 2 feet.

Parnell was taken to Whidbey General Hospital, and then airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with head and internal injuries.

Ludy, 71, complained of a sore chest and leg after the accident and was also taken to Whidbey General Hospital, according to police records.

When the State Patrol arrived on the scene of the accident, investigating trooper Jason Nichols went to talk to Parnell, who was strapped to a backboard in an emergency vehicle.

“I could immediately smell the odor of intoxicants as I entered the aid unit,” Nichols wrote in his report.

“I asked Parnell how much alcohol had she consumed that night. Parnell stated rum and coke and two or three beers,” he added.

Nichols then arrested her for DUI.

Due to her injuries, however, Parnell was later taken to Harborview Medical Center for treatment. She was diagnosed with a torn diaphragm and a broken pelvis. Her internal organs had also been shifted because of the accident, and she underwent major surgery in the hours after the crash.

According to the records released this week, an Island County sheriff’s deputy told Nichols that witnesses had said there was a passenger in Parnell’s vehicle who took of running after the crash, and the witnesses said the passenger was drunk.

The identity of the passenger or witnesses has not been released by authorities as the investigation is ongoing. Authorities said it was essential to keep the names private so the investigation could run its course.

“There was allegedly one female passenger in Parnell’s car, who, according to witnesses, ran from the scene and left in another vehicle that stopped and picked her up,” Banks said.

According to police records, the teen’s father was in the room when police asked her for a blood sample at the hospital.

“She asked if we could do this later,” Nichols wrote in his report. “I informed Parnell that this had to be done now. After I finished reading Parnell her rights, her father stated, ‘just tell him no.’”

She refused the blood test repeatedly, according to the police records.

The teenager’s father disputed the accuracy of the police report.

“As a matter of fact, we did do an alcohol test at the hospital in Seattle and it came back negative,” her father said, adding that doctors at Harborview Medical Center conducted the test.

He said the trooper’s observations were wrong.

“We are filing a report against the officer who aggressively has been seeking a DUI on the situation,” Byron Parnell said.

“She was revived at the scene and doesn’t even remember being transported to the hospital. Him saying that she was conscious and alert is a flat out lie,” Parnell said.

He added that his daughter doesn’t remember talking to an officer and that he talked to witnesses who said she hadn’t been drinking.

“I know she is a kid, things happen and I am not trying to put my head in the sand. But I have a BAC test that shows negative,” he said.

The prosecutor’s office will continue the investigation.

“Our next step is that we are awaiting additional reports from first responders to the scene, and may be seeking further information from the police and hospitals,” Banks said.

“Once we have that information, we will make a determination as to what, if any, charges should be filed,” Banks said.

“This is an extremely serious incident. DUI is the charge we are currently considering, though other charges are possible. It may take a couple weeks to gather the remaining information,” the prosecutor said.

The passenger who ran from the scene of the accident may not face any immediate legal consequences.

“Although running from the scene where your friend has been seriously injured is unusual and irresponsible, it is not a crime,” Banks said. “Based on the information we have now, it is unlikely the passenger will be charged with any crime.”

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