Sunday, June 23, 2024

Knowlton seeks more help for victims, more accountability for offenders

Testifies at legislative hearing

Posted

OLYMPIA-For the first time in more than six years since she lost her husband, Gary, to a drunk driver, Deana Knowlton testified before lawmakers in support of a bill to provide more counseling to traumatized victims like herself.

House Bill 1501 introduced by 12th District State Representative Mike Steele would authorize additional counseling services for immediate family members of homicide victims.

HB1501 is among a group of bills legislators have put forward in response to the alarming spike in statewide traffic deaths.

Knowlton wants to see more professional counseling for homicide victims.

“They feel that 12 visits are a magic number that you’re going to be cured from any homicide trauma,” Knowlton said citing her own experience as an example of what more is needed.

“In my first three years I had 273 counseling sessions,” said Knowlton who continues with the therapy.

“This is the first time I have testified,” said Knowlton “because all the previous bills were shot down.”

What appears to be different now is last year’s increase in traffic-related deaths when accidents claimed nearly 750 people, the most in more than 30 years, The legislative response has been a number of bills including HB 1501 that Knowlton supports aimed at addressing traffic fatalities and surviving victims. Some examples:

• SB 1582 bans right turns at red lights within a thousand feet of schools, hospitals, and playgrounds.

• SB 5002 reduces the breath or blood alcohol content (BAC) for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05.

• HB 1513 shifts the emphasis of police traffic stops from low-risk or non-moving stops to those like speeding, reckless or impaired driving.

• SB 5272 authorizes speed limit cameras in highway work zones.

• SB 5560 reduces older driver safety by increasing their license renewal frequency.

• SB 5032 extends the felony timeframe for fourth DUI from 10 to 15 years.

• SB 5430 creates a scholarship fund for low-income driver education.

• HB 1319 requires license re-examination for a driver who causes substantial bodily harm in a collision.

Knowlton has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I thought PTSD was only associated with the military,” said Knowlton. “I never thought I would experience what I have.”

The trauma has caused her to suppress some memories like many of those associated with the court trial. Others she imagines like her husband’s accident scene that she was unable to visit the day it happened because police blocked access. The sight of bicyclists wearing yellow shirts are trigger flashbacks.

“Gary always wore yellow coming home on his bike,” Knowlton said.

Working through the trauma has been a challenging journey.

“I’m not where I was six years ago,” said Knowlton of her recovery curve. “I’m better, but I’m not quite there.”

Knowlton’s nightmare began on July 16, 2016, when Gary, a schoolteacher and lifeguard, was struck and killed outside Chelan while bicycling home to Brewster from Manson Bay where he served as a lifeguard every summer since 2008.

The driver of the Nissan pickup that struck 50-year-old Gary Knowlton was 22-year-old Bridgeport resident Jovany Lopez-Maciel. He threw the broken bicycle into his pickup and fled the scene. After hiding out with help from his father, Maciel was arrested the following September and charged with vehicular homicide and felony hit and run.

It was not the first time Maciel was in trouble with the law. The Felony Judgement and Sentence document issued by the Chelan County Superior Court disclosed juvenile convictions for third degree rape in September 2011 and residential burglary in December 2011.

Maciel’s convictions for second degree manslaughter and second-degree malicious mischief resulted in a three-year, five-month (41-month) prison sentence imposed in June 2017 and served at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell. That would make his release date around November 2020. An additional 18 months of supervision was mandated following his release.

In January 2018 the state House of Representatives approved a resolution sponsored by Mike Steele (R-Chelan) and Cary Condotta (R-Wenatchee) honoring the life of Gary Knowlton. Steele had a personal as well as professional connection to the issue.

“I worked with Gary as a lifeguard at Manson,” said Steele. “That was during my high school years and all through college.”

The Chelan County Prosecutor’s Office contacted Knowlton in December 2018 to advise her that Maciel was scheduled for early release in mid-January 2019. Counting the nine months of time served prior to his sentencing, Maciel spent about 28 of the 41 months behind bars. The 18-month supervision was waived because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was deporting Maciel back to Mexico after his release.

During the intervening years since the tragedy Knowlton has waged a dedicated campaign for stiffer penalties for offenders and more support for victims of crime. Yet, last month was the first opportunity she had to testify for a piece of legislation that actually made it this far in the legislative process.

Fast forward to the present day and Maciel is back in Washington state. Knowlton even knows his address in the Tri-Cities area. He was cited by the Washington State Patrol for a moving violation on Sept. 16, 2020, and went to court. That’s how Knowlton learned of his return. She passed the information to her contact at ICE but state RCW 10.93.160 regarding law enforcement restrictions relative to immigration and citizenship status bars any further action from those quarters. Knowlton said she feels powerless in the face of legalities that stand in the way of further accountability by the man who killed her husband.

“I understand that criminals have the upper hand, and that everybody is for criminals,” said Knowlton. “I get that.”

She said she gets frustrated with the system and the feeling that nobody is listening.

“I can understand why victims don’t step up, through my own experience,” said Knowlton, “because I am one.”

Knowlton’s two daughters, Kari, now 32 and married, and Krysta, 29, have endured their share of victim trauma but move forward in appreciation of their father’s memory. Kari is a schoolteacher in Mossyrock, and Krysta works for a health company in Spokane.

“I’m going to keep fighting,” said Knowlton. “I tell my girls that if the roles were reversed Gary would do the same thing, If I can help one family to cope and get through with some tools, that is my goal.”


 

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