Mary Jo Keil wakes up every morning and thinks about the same thing. Her husband, Tim. He’s dead. He was killed by a drunk driver more than two years ago. It was on Valentine’s Day.
Keil has since moved away, to Bothell, and the new surroundings have helped. So has her support system. But the pain doesn’t go away, not really. It will always hurt, she said.
“It never stops, it never goes away, it just gets different,” Keil said.
The lack of closure in her husband’s legal case is a struggle. The responsible driver, South Whidbey resident Michelle Nichols, was found guilty of vehicular homicide this past December and sentenced to 126 months in prison. But she hasn’t yet served a day in jail due a judge approved deal that was supposed to expedite the trial and later the defense’s pre-planned appeal. That was nearly 10 months ago. It’s been 31 months since the crash.
Keil said the waiting has been tough. One comfort will arrive this fall, however, in the form of a memorial road sign. Like the many others that pepper the roads of Whidbey, it will urge people not to drink and drive. It will also serve as a reminder that Tim Keil, a 61-year-old Freeland man, died because one person did.
They are created through the state Department of Transporation’s DUI Memorial Sign Program. It’s a grassroots program that came from the family and friends of victims of drunk drivers, according to the agency’s website.
“WSDOT has embraced the program as a way to join together with citizens of this state in the ongoing efforts to combat Driving Under the Influence,” the website says.
The program only allows signs if the causing driver was convicted of vehicular homicide or was fatally injured and shown later through toxicology results to have been impaired. Signs are paid for by the families and cost between $500 and $950. In this case, the tab was picked up by Keil and Trinity Lutheran Church; he was a member of the congregation and the His Hands Extended program, which takes clothing to the homeless in Seattle.
Mike Koidal, a traffic operations engineer, is working on Keil’s signs; there are actually two, one for each side of traffic. Each will be 3 feet wide by 5 feet tall, and posted near the intersection of Highway 525 and Coles Road. The exact location is still being determined. Ironically, a distillery sign is currently located at the exact spot where Keil died, and Mary Jo Keil is hoping it will be removed.
Once the location issues are settled, there will likely be a ceremony on the day it’s erected. Koidal said it’s too dangerous to have a public gathering on the busy roadway, so he and Mary Jo Keil are looking into an alternative meeting place beforehand.
Details will be released once they’re hammered out, he said.
Koidal said there’s no statistics or evidence to suggest the signs are a deterrent, but he said it certainly doesn’t hurt.
“There are a lot of signs out on the roadway and people become blind to them,” he said. “I think this is a good program helping people stay aware of the dangers.”
He hopes the signs will be complete and in place by late October or early November.
As for Nichols’ appeal, the case will drag on at least another two months. Now that the defense’s brief has been filed, the Island County Prosecutor’s Office has 60 days to respond. Once submitted, the defense has 30 days to file a reply. Attorneys may then argue their cases in person, or the court may just issue a ruling without oral arguments.
The defense argues that Nichols’ toxicology results should have been repressed, contending that the police’s decision to withdraw her blood without a warrant was not justified.
Depending on the appeals court’s ruling, the case will come back to Island County Superior Court for one of two outcomes: an entirely new trial without the prosecution’s key piece of evidence — the toxicology results — or for a lifting of Nichols’ stay of sentencing. In the latter case, Nichols would then go to prison.