A family was devastated Monday in the street in front of Eckstein Middle School.
A mother and her infant child are in critical condition. The infant’s grandparents, Judy and Dennis Schulte, were killed immediately.
Just moments earlier, the Schultes stopped to chat with Lacia Lynne Bailey, who lives at the intersection. Bailey has a newborn pet goat, and the family stopped to chat and marvel.
“We were just bantering and joking and having a beautiful day,” Bailey told the Seattle Times.
Less than a minute later, as the family was crossing NE 75th St, Mark Mullen struck all four of them with his pickup truck. Another nearby neighbor saw the bodies of Judy and Dennis strewn about the street, a mother with infant in a sling thrown against the curb, and told the Times she thought there must have been a shooting.
But there were no gunshots. The family was destroyed by a man who was allegedly intoxicated and decided to get behind the wheel despite having at least two previous drunk driving arrests on his record already.
Firefighters, medics, police officers and journalists who arrived at the scene were shaken by the horrific scene they found.
“These are family members, fathers, mothers and they have kids, and it hits them hard,” the Seattle Fire Department’s Kyle Moore told the Times. “You do your professional job while you’re treating these patients and taking care of the situation, but they’re people, too, and it affects them.”
The street where the Schulte family was devastated runs in front of Nathan Eckstein Middle School, which has been very active recently in promoting biking and walking to school. The Northeast Seattle Greenways group has noted the stretch of street as a candidate for safety improvements, and the draft Bicycle Master Plan update recommends the street for a safety upgrade.
While Monday’s tragedy is particularly shocking, death and injury on our city’s streets, even in front of Seattle schools, is far too common. Earlier this year, a crossing guard at Ballard’s Salmon Bay Elementary was struck doing his job, a post he has held since his daughter was struck in the very same crosswalk years earlier.
NW 65th St in front of Salmon Bay Elementary is very similar to NE 75th St in front of Eckstein and many, many other streets in front of many other Seattle schools: Dangerous with few safe crosswalks, bike lanes or impediments to speeding.
Mark Mullen stands a good chance of getting the book thrown at him, as a repeat offender should if found guilty. But that won’t bring back Judy and Dennis, and it will do almost nothing to prevent another tragedy in front of another school next week, next month or next year.
We have the tools to minimize death and injury on our streets. We have neighborhood groups all across the city pushing for more funding for safe streets and Safe Routes to School, but the city and state invest effectively nothing into those programs.
We cannot prevent someone from driving drunk, but we can make it as difficult as possible for a drunk or simply inattentive person to do this kind of damage to another family.
In the wake of the collision in front of Salmon Bay Elementary, we suggested that the city and/or state set a bold-but-achievable goal: Zero dangerous streets within a block of any school by the end of 2013.
Because I can’t bear to write another story like this one. Our firefighters can’t bear to go to another scene like this one. And the Schulte family deserved better.
UPDATE: The Seattle Times has details on how you can donate to help the family:
Funds for the victims have been set up at Homestreet Bank’s Wedgwood branch:
Karina & Elias Ulriksen-Schulte Medical Fund, account no.: 5322733430; routing no.: 325084426.
Dennis & Judy Schulte Memorial Fund, account no.: 5388871396; routing no.: 325084426.
46 responses to “Grandparents killed, mother and infant child critical in wake of tragedy in front of Eckstein Middle School”
We cannot prevent someone from driving drunk,
I disagree. The law should not tolerate a second DUI. The privileges to own and operate a motor vehicle should be revoked for life, there should be mandatory imprisonment, and there should be penalties for furnishing a vehicle to a person with such a record. Too bad if “he’s a good guy” who “has troubles with the bottle” (from the Times article). He chose to drink. He chose to drive. He had no regard for others’ safety. We don’t need him and others like him on the roads. This was no accident. Blaming road design diverts attention from holding people responsible for their choices and actions.
That was not my intention. He should get everything he has coming to him. There is no excuse for drunk driving, and I find it awfully hard to swallow that this guy still had a license after being caught twice. And we should continue campaigns against drunk driving. We can lower the prevalence of it.
However, my point is that we cannot fully stop it or other dangerous driving behaviors (texting, driving stoned, driving on Ambien, etc). Some people will still choose to be dangerous. We can design our roads to minimize the potential for harm. We know they work. The tools are at our disposal, we just are not investing in them.
UPDATE: Merlin points out an update below: His license was suspended, but he drove anyway.
What are you proposing, Bill, to prevent people like him from driving while drunk?
Should we pay $40K/year for incarceration for the rest of his life?
We already know that taking away driver’s licenses does not lead to a suspension of driving — it only leads to driving illegally without a license (there is ample research on this.)
In that light, it seems much more cost-effective and pragmatic to follow the Dutch sustainable safety and modernize our neighborhood streets where people live, to maintain automobile speeds at the levels that we know cannot kill vulnerable road users in crashes (e.g. 20 mph or less).
Not to mention, you get better walkability, bikeability, public health, and real estate values, too. ;-)
I did not have a life sentence in mind, but if you value a life saved at $1mm then society breaks even at 25 years’ incarceration if only one fatal accident is prevented (and time will tell if this guy has killed two or four). If you factor in the costs to rehabilitate an injured person, the costs to support them if they cannot become fully gainfully employed, and the lost productivity of children whose lives might be messed up when a parent is killed, then locking up for life people who prove themselves dangerous and untrustworthy is a clear win. This guy has a track record of irresponsibility; he and others like him should have been dealt with more severely much earlier.
I disagree it is impossible to prevent people without licenses from driving. Make it a crime to furnish a vehicle to such people.
Long term, rebuilding streets to calm traffic is a good goal. But it will take a long time and is infeasible in rural areas. The law can be changed overnight, if we want. But I fear we do not. Every month we tolerate highway deaths equal to 9/11, and do nothing.
So, you’d rather put one guy in jail, rather than (say) 5-10 miles of the street rehabilitated such that killings like these would be close to impossible?
I know everyone has different values and that’s what makes communities awesome, but I’d find that really hard to get behind as my own.
Restriping a few miles of road will not prevent a grossly irresponsible driver from killing someone someplace else. Putting him in jail will. This guy had numerous second chances and repeatedly disregarded the safety of others. Our laws, or their manner of enforcement, do not deal with this sort of behavior adequately.
This problem is not just about street design. It is not just about repeat DUIs. Focusing on those aspects relieves the rest of us, who were not driving the truck, from examining whether our own driving habits express respect or disregard for the safety of others.
Education, public leadership, and smart street design can do a lot to change driving culture, but we also need to protect ourselves from the bad apples.
P.S. Otherwise, I do totally agree with you.
Personally, I’ve love to see drunk drivers responsible for lifetime child support.
I agree, Bill. road design is just one key part of a change in road culture that leads in part to terrible decisions. The day driving drunk (or distracted, on other drugs, etc) is so shameful and embarrassing that almost nobody would consider doing it, we will really have gotten somewhere.
Simply painting new lines on the street won’t get us all the way there, but it’s one way the city can clearly signal that streets are social spaces that everyone uses and shares. There are many parts to this, you’re right.
You guys are talking about lines on the pavement as the engineering outcome, I’m talking about re-engineering streets to actually have a design speed that enforces slower driving, just like you have all over countries like The Netherlands which provide safe streets.
I imagine, though, Seattle isn’t ready to take on modern international safety practices on its residential arterials (where people still need to live and walk safely), because when it comes down to it, we really WOULD rather occasionally kill off a few innocent families rather than commit to slower streets.
I should also add:
Really, nothing we’re talking about is happening, anyway – other than making us feel good for venting. *Is* anyone actually doing anything here?
I know Cathy is organizing a vigil (during my work hours, so I can’t make it).
I just want to add: this is what an arterial looks like in the Dutch city I lived in.
It’s admittedly a non-intersection photo, but good luck trying to run over a bike or pedestrian while inattentive or drunk. ;-)
@Eli: I guess I don’t know the context in that picture, but… you couldn’t run over a pedestrian there because there isn’t one in sight. Why would there be when there’s no place to cross the road in sight? And how does such separation improve safety in any way for people crossing the road, assuming there’s a way to do it somewhere? It reminds me of something I read about from GM’s safety labs in the 60s, a freeway with a 100-foot shoulder.
Some of the things we are doing here make more sense. Medians for pedestrian crossings, for example, as seen along the 39th Ave Greenway. But one thing I’ve always found weird about Seattle is that we mostly don’t have all-way stop signs. This helps turn our minor arterials into speedways. I understand why road engineers hate all-way stops, but they’re pretty pedestrian-friendly as intersection treatments go, and that might be more important.
The party line response I’ve gotten from SDOT about all-way stops, or even two-way stops, is that that would make them so common people would ignore stop signs everywhere. So our uncontrolled intersections are indeed uncontrolled. Every micro-neighborhood seems to have its own conventions about which way gets to shoot through at high speed. Honk at someone who fails to yield and you’ll get an indignant look and maybe a finger.
The SDOT response also includes the reminder that uncontrolled intersections are to be treated as four-way stops under the traffic code. Well, I know that! The problem is a lot of other people don’t seem to. Written testing for license renewals, anyone? When I moved here, having only lived in states that required testing, I had to take a behind the wheel test, which I now regard as a joke bordering on an insult. I want my money back.
Most cities have many more stop signs than Seattle. Chicago and SF certainly do. If I’m walking there and I get to an intersection well before a car I just go, with pretty good confidence the driver is going to stop. In Seattle I have to wait for all the cars to clear, or to slow down enough that it’s clear they see me, even if I have a crosswalk.
I don’t really care about putting stop signs at every side street intersection; existing traffic calming strategies and the narrowness of most side streets prevent fast cut-through traffic; drivers are basically aware they can’t go through those intersections fast. But the minor arterials (40th in Wallingford, 75th, etc.) look like and are treated like speedways. A few strategic all-stops would cure that and create more safe places to cross the street.
Apparently he didn’t have a license – an updated story on the Times website says his license was suspended. That didn’t keep him from driving. But taking every drunk driver off the road won’t stop sober, reckless people from driving recklessly. Drinking is involved in only about one third of traffic fatalities (http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811554.pdf). Streets in residential neighborhoods need to be redesigned for safety, not speed.
Thanks for the update on the suspended license. Unfortunately, you don’t need a license to start a car, you’re right.
Was there another car stopped for the family, and did Mullen try to whip around it? When I’m driving I kind of don’t want to stop for people on wide roads, because I’m afraid some asshole will pass me and murder the people crossing.
And NOW there’s an enforcement action in front of the school – already caught a dozen speeders. Like many of our streets, the highway-like design on 75th makes you feel like an idiot slowpoke if you follow the speed limit. And for residential streets, the speed limit is already too high to be safe.
What I’m really wondering is: why can’t we fix dangerous streets without having a collection innocent Seattle residents killed first to make the case for it?
I mean, did we really need people to die to know that this street was dangerous?
A while ago, I had an amazing conversation with an SDOT engineer, who was explaining to me that a dangerous neighborhood intersection with a car crash every 6 months or so would not even be seriously considered for improvement because it’s just not dangerous enough — having that level of crashes was, by implication, acceptable.
Like, seriously? So we’ll just wait until a few more people get killed at that intersection, too, until anything happens?
I realize that there are real constraints here like funding, and prioritizations need to be made. But it’s very hard to seriously believe, in the Janette Sadik Kahn and Rahm Emmanuel era, that our city really is doing taking a leadership role here.
– Eli Goldberg
UPDATE: I called the injured infant a granddaughter, but the PI reports the child is a boy. I corrected it in the headline and story.
Well put, Tom.
This news made me sick. I feel so bad for this family. I have to cross 75th street all the time and its like playing Frogger. Even right by the school, which is sad. This street should have been redesigned a long time ago.
Two more thoughts: First, thanks for this write-up, Tom. I wish you were the one writing these things for the Times. Second, street design is very important in curbing dangerous driving – but so is the community culture. I am incredibly embarrassed to remember that until I became enlightened I generally drove as fast as I thought I could get away with; on arterials that meant at least keeping up with everyone else who generally drove 5 to 10 mph over the speed limit (I read that as a “speed suggestion.”) – and when I was on a straightaway I might well be the one passing all the slow-pokes going “only” 5 to 10 mph over the speed limit. Needless to say, I rarely noticed people standing by the side of the road trying to cross the street, and when I did notice them, it was usually too late to try to stop to let them cross. Now, of course, I’m making up for past sins, on the few occasions when I get in a car. But even post-enlightenment, I’ve found myself going over the speed limit on neighborhood streets designed for speed. Good, safe infrastructure will facilitate cultural change – which will create demand for more safe infrastructure, etc. etc.
Thank you for writing this.
This horrifying tragedy is, unfortunately, part of the American status quo. There is an ongoing holocaust on the roads in this country. The twentieth century based obsession with the automobile has to end. That is the only solution. Over thirty thousand dead in this country every year is not only not a necessary evil, it is completely unacceptable. I am a proud American. I cannot abide the slaughter of my fellow citizens at the hands of my fellow citizens, perpetuated by a culture of greed and laziness. It is unacceptable. There has to be a profound change of attitudes and perceptions in this country regarding the automobile.
Thanks for putting this so well, Tom.
Of course road deaths have to stop. How do we do this? How do we, personally, stop this carnage?
By not driving and by being brave enough to tell others why.
What changes do we demand, politically?
We know the cause. It isn’t a mystery what makes some roads so deadly. As many have said before, speed is what kills and we must calm all neighborhood streets, all streets.
I am baffled at why anybody thinks any change to physical infrastructure will stop somebody from driving in an out-of-control fashion? So you “design streets to slow down traffic” and somehow expect that won’t become a challenge to people to see how fast they go in your little maze?
As for the “by not driving” – in the real world a large body of transportation infrastructure is required to deliver such things as food into cities, as well as to support the ever larger numbers of people who won’t be able to walk, etc. Short of dispersing the huge majority of city dewellers back into rural lives, there will be large numbers of vehicles and there will be accidents.
One could imagine a scheme in which all new cars were required to have sensors that caused them to refuse to operate for drivers who were drunk, or not possession of a “license key” – just debug it (good luck) and demand all new cars work that way (good luck) and wait about 14 years.
[If you could get it to be reliable, it would in the end work.] I suppose that would make drunk driving about as rare as drunk flying – which is not unheard of but very much not a principle contributor to hazard.
If someone is completely homicidal or impaired they will always find a way to hurt somebody but otherwise you are completely wrong Bryan. Traffic calming techniques work. I have ridden, drove, and walked on streets all over this city before and after various improvements have been made and it makes all the difference in the world. There is plenty of data to prove it. The bottom line is that whatever is built, road-wise, will be utilized. If the streets are dangerous for everything but cars, you get…surprise… nothing but people in cars. I understand that vehicles are necessary in some situations but the vast majority of trips in cars could be done on foot or on a bike…. if only it wasn’t so dangerous.
Just because you lack imagination or real world experience beyond our current, car-centric built environment, doesn’t mean traffic-calming measures don’t work. They have worked, and worked demonstrably well around the world as well as right here in Seattle.
The level of traffic along that stretch of 75th is low enough (16900 a day in 2011) that there is absolutely no reason for in to be 4 lanes. Put in middle turn lane and maybe a per refuge at a few crossings, and it will significantly drop the speeds.
We need to do it. Yesterday.
I’m guessing Bryan’s gonna be a t0ugh sell… ;)
Oh my god. Is this real? Mecca of Speed?
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I wrote about this over on my blog, too.
I’m still angry. Can’t we stop killing people with cars?
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Dead ending 75th to cars would fix the problem of people shooting past the school.
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Unfortunately in this country they always feel sorry for anyone who kills a child and no punishment. Take them to hospital as they say they are suffering from shock. Once this happens that is the end no charges only sympathy for the driver and excuses made. If they drive through a fence it is okay they were not going fast only doing an illegal turn but no sympathy for the victim. Ban any woman or man who kills a child in a school zone from ever driving near the school zone again. They are child killers and should be in gaol in my opinion.
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