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Freeland crash results in fatality

A memorial sits near the site where Dennis Broce, 39, took his final motorcycle ride on Bush Point Road in Freeland. Broce, a Freeland resident, was killed after crashing into Kevin O’Neill’s Toyota 4Runner SUV on July 26 when O’Neill reportedly attempted to turn onto a driveway. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
A memorial sits near the site where Dennis Broce, 39, took his final motorcycle ride on Bush Point Road in Freeland. Broce, a Freeland resident, was killed after crashing into Kevin O’Neill’s Toyota 4Runner SUV on July 26 when O’Neill reportedly attempted to turn onto a driveway.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Dennis Broce was out riding his 1993 Honda CBR 900 motorcycle Thursday night.

While driving eastbound around 9:30 p.m. on Bush Point Road, a 50 mph zone, Kevin O’Neill turned left directly in front of Broce, 39, according to investigative reports.

Washington State Patrol reports said Broce tried to brake, skidded on the road and slid with the motorcycle into the passenger-side rear door of O’Neill’s 1998 Toyota 4Runner.

Injuries from the impact were severe enough that Broce later died at Harborview Medical Center and Hospital in Seattle, according to reports.

“It was a significant impact,” said Jon Beck, deputy chief with South Whidbey Fire/EMS, who arrived on scene as first responders were taking Broce away in an ambulance.

First responders transported Broce, who was still alive immediately after the crash, to the field behind Payless Foods in Freeland.

About 30 minutes after the accident, Broce was airlifted to Harborview, where he was pronounced dead.

O’Neill, 28, was suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana and booked into Island County Jail for vehicular homicide, according to the State Patrol.

O’Neill was released on his own personal recognizance Friday, July 26.

Trooper Mark Francis said O’Neill was not injured in the crash.

Broce was wearing full motorcycle safety gear and a state Department of Transportation compliant helmet at the time of the crash, which happened about a quarter-mile west of the intersection with State Highway 525, according to reports.

On Monday, a memorial of flowers, a candle and a single handwritten note lay near the site of the collision.

Lilies, daisies and other flower bouquets leaned against a stake driven into the ground with foot-high drying grass around it.

The note, written on a small notepad’s paper, hung around a nail.

The driveway’s two mailboxes and newspaper boxes, attached to a board, were on the pavement, knocked off their stand as a result of the collision.

Glass, fiberglass and plastic shards were strewn about on the roadway and along the driveway.

On Bush Point Road, orange markings showed the black skid marks Broce’s tires made when he attempted to stop.

The mark runs about 30 feet, just east of the driveway.

Blood samples were taken from O’Neill and will be tested for intoxicants.

Officers at the scene suspected that O’Neill may have been high on marijuana at the time of the accident. Toxicology results are pending, but the case could become the first marijuana-related vehicular homicide case in the county since voters passed an initiative legalizing pot.

Initiative 502 set a DUI impairment level for THC for the first time. People with a THC blood content of 5 nanograms per milliliter can not legally drive.

Deputy Prosecutor David Carman explained that there are two “prongs” to the vehicular homicide statute. He could have to either prove that O’Neill was driving recklessly or impaired by drugs or alcohol. The DUI prong is more serious.

Carman said the new “per se” marijuana law should, hypothetically, make it easier to prove the DUI prong. He wouldn’t have to show evidence that impairment caused the accident, just the toxicology result. It’s very similar to the .08 alcohol law.

“It’s a new law,” he said. “It’s kind of being shaken out in court.”

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