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Family of Derek Blaylock files suit against city, Sound Transit and contractors after 2016 death near Northgate Station

Derek and his sons at the Tour de France. Photo courtesy of Jane Blaylock.

Derek Blaylock drove his son to school the morning of September 21, 2016, then grabbed his bike and rode to Northgate Transit Center to catch a bus to work. On the way home, he was biking from the transit center along 1st Ave NE next to a construction barrier set up for work on the Northgate Station when Kevin Brewer struck and killed him. Brewer was sentenced to more than six years in prison for vehicular homicide.

I had the chance to sit down with Jane Blaylock a year after her husband’s death to learn more about him. She described a loving father of two who was quick with witty one-liners, was a master at cooking meat and usually preferred to avoid the spotlight. I encourage readers to read that profile if you haven’t already.

Blaylock’s death was devastating to his friends and family, of course. But making matters worse, the person who killed him should not have been on the road at all after a long history of dangerous driving that included killing one person.

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Brewer had previously killed Nicole Cheek, a grandmother walking along the side of a road in Marysville, in 2008. He left Cheek on the side of the road, where she was not discovered for another hour. He later turned himself in a pleaded guilty, saying he fell asleep. He served three and a half years for Cheek’s death, but investigators found that “[b]etween 2007 and 2016, Brewer was responsible for at least 10 collisions in which the driving behavior was consistent with that of a driver impaired by alcohol or drugs, or by a fatigued/drowsy driver” according to court charging documents.

On that terrible day in 2016, Brewer was driving southbound on 1st Ave NE behind Blaylock when he veered off the road around NE 95th Street and up the side of the construction Jersey barrier. This is when he struck and killed Blaylock, who was trapped between the truck and the barrier.

Brewer is named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed recently by Blaylock’s estate, of course, but so are Sound Transit, the City of Seattle and a list of contractors working on the Northgate Station project (JCM Northlink, Jay Dee Contractors, Frank Coluccio Construction Company, Michels Corporation and North Star Seattle Runnel and Rail).

The lawsuit alleges that removal of the shoulder and placement of a concrete barrier and raised asphalt berm “degraded the safety of 1st Ave NE for southbound bicyclists in particular.” The suit also alleges that degrading an established bike route in this way “created a need for properly placed signs and reasonably safe detour routes for bicyclists.” The suit also alleges that a 2013 traffic control plan required bike detour signs away from southbound 1st Ave NE, but that those signs were not in place when the collision occurred.

The suit seeks unspecified “economic and non-economic damages.”

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5 responses to “Family of Derek Blaylock files suit against city, Sound Transit and contractors after 2016 death near Northgate Station”

  1. Danica

    The problem with any bike “detours” away from the construction on 1st is that they don’t provide a safer route to the transit center or mall. The only alternative is northbound on 5th Ave NE, which is a sharrow on an extra wide road that turns into two lanes after 100th. To turn onto 100th, you have to ignore the sharrow markers and control the left side of the lane to block cars from squeezing you off the road and preventing you from making the left turn – and then turn across a lane of southbound traffic, without signalling because you just came off a steep downhill and need both hands to brake. After 100th, if you are following the sharrow markers into the right lane, you need to merge into the left lane to make the left turn onto NE 103rd St- which becomes impossible when cars doing 30-35mph are all merging into the left lane to pass you. There’s just no opening, and no one will slow down to let you over. All of this is doable if you’re confident enough (and know ahead of time!) to control the left lane/left side of the lane, but it puts you in conflict with very impatient drivers who don’t understand why you’re not where the sharrow markers tell you to be. 1st Ave NE is a mess with all construction, but at least there is only one lane, which you can control more easily, and it is a right-hand turn onto 100th or 103rd, so you’re not turning across other lanes of traffic. I tried using 5th as an alternative to 1st once, and swore I would never do it again. Even when there are bike detour signs up on 1st now, I ignore them and just control the lane. It’s still safer than 5th.

    1. Bragi

      I completely agree. 1st Avenue NE is problematic, even somewhat dangerous, as we sadly know, but 5th Avenue is even worse. The entire section between the Northgate Transit Center and the 92nd Street bridge, pretty much the only way to get across I-5 in that area, is a remarkably hostile environment for bicyclists.

  2. JB

    Good, there should be a lawsuit every time a cyclist is so much as scratched or bruised on 4th Avenue and everywhere else that our dull and indifferent mayor continues to drag her feet on building necessary bike infrastructure. It’s an entirely predictable result. We see that the city had to be sued into doing something as simple and obvious and legally required as building curb ramps for people who use wheelchairs, and they are arguably a much more sympathetic group than people who use bicycles. The plaintive bleating of this blog and the rest of the Seattle bike lobby is obviously far from adequate to move the needle on bike infrastructure.

  3. Conrad

    As part of this deal Brewer needs to have his drivers license permanently revoked, too. It should go without saying but something tells me it won’t happen.

  4. Brendan

    I can assure that Brewer’s victim list is vastly short of the reality. Nichole, Derek, their friends and families the world over are already on it officially. But I am certain there are numerous unsolved hit-and-run homicides for which Brewer is also responsible. If he is not already suspected by investigators, he surely ought to be. He was operating his entire existence in an unconscious condition–and has eluded the authorities for decades. I needn’t argue. I’ve been there. The evidence is obvious to me: Once the conscience is killed by drug abuse, there is virtually no hope of recovery, much less amending the behaviors that have devastated so many people. For myself, I am far more cautious when driving these days. I encourage my friends and co-workers to disable their smartphones and televisions and pay some attention to human life, especially while driving but also while stationary. Derek’s own life was far too short because of one ignorant bastard and the laws that released it, but the real tragedy here is that Derek was such an exemplary person. It remains impossible to find anybody that didn’t like him. He always considered his impact on other people first, always endeavored to make it positive, and certainly didn’t get any of that from me. He got that from our parents, Geoffrey and Anita Blaylock, who raised us to a standard that my only brother never compromised but forever kept trying to elevate. It is in his memory that I will emphatically support any and all changes needed to better protect his two sons, his fellow cyclists and all other part- or full-time pedestrians. It will not be an easy ride.

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