Christina Brownlee and her family are upset that a Benton County District Court judge threw out a negligent driving charge against a man whose car collided with her husband's motorcycle, killing him.
Brownlee, whose husband Duane, 40, was killed in an auto accident May 14, was stunned when Judge Terry Tanner dismissed the second-degree negligent driving charge against Ronald Lee Fowler, whose car collided with Duane's motorcycle at the intersection of Wright Avenue and Tinkle Street in Richland.
"You made a couple of bad decisions," Tanner told Fowler before pronouncing judgment. But the judge noted it's possible to err when faced with a split-second decision on the road. "But you failed to yield."
Fowler was charged with failure to yield and ordered to pay a $175 fine by the judge, who earlier heard testimony from two Richland police officers, a Washington State Patrol trooper and a 12-year-old boy who witnessed the accident.
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"There's no justice in the world," Brownlee said afterward, barely able to control her tears, as family and friends huddled around her Thursday after the verdict.
"Fowler got off lightly," said Dianne Brownlee, Duane's mother. Fowler was negligent and the judge should have recognized that, she said.
Her son recently had started a handyman business with his dad, she said.
"Now the fix-it man is gone. His family is in dire financial straits," she said, adding her daughter-in law is a stay-at home mom who homeschools her three children.
The family has been let down by the legal system, said Dennis O'Neill, a family friend. He said he understands Fowler has had previous arrests for a drug-related offense and drunken driving. It's strange that he never was tested for drugs, considering, O'Neill said.
The Washington State Patrol recommended Fowler be charged with failure to yield and vehicular homicide, but the prosecutors chose to press only two traffic infraction charges, O'Neill said. They said they couldn't prove reckless driving on Fowler's part, required for the vehicular homicide charge. That also made Duane's wife and children ineligible for crime victims' benefits, he said.
Fowler declined to comment about previous arrests. But a search of the Washington Courts website and Herald archives confirmed them.
Noelle Rice, a neighbor of Christina's in Richland, said Fowler seemed unrepentant. She said she heard him say, " 'If Duane wouldn't be speeding, this would have never happened.' "
"I just couldn't believe it," Rice said.
Dianne said she could forgive Fowler, "because the God is going to balance the scale." But she added, "There's no conscience any more."
She said her family is struggling with the pain of losing a son, a husband and a father. That's hard, especially when the family has no means of support, she said.
A benefit fund to help the family has been set up at Gesa Credit Union.