A woman accused of being intoxicated behind the wheel on New Year’s Eve and driving into oncoming traffic on Highway 305 near Poulsbo, killing a taxi driver, was charged Monday with vehicular homicide.
The crash at 6:36 p.m. Friday that killed Jennifer L. Winchester, 50, of Bremerton, was the fourth serious crash since June near the intersection of Highway 305 and Johnson Road. Winchester was an employee of Harborside Taxi in Bremerton.
The crash that killed Winchester is similar to a serious crash in early December where a woman driving in the same area, also allegedly drunk, crossed the center line and struck an oncoming vehicle, sending its driver to the hospital.
On Monday, Dorothy Erlinda Liebenrood, 36, of Poulsbo, pleaded not guilty to the charge of vehicular homicide for Winchester’s death. Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Bill Houser set Liebenrood’s bail at $250,000.
Winchester’s daughter, Kayla Rochelle, spoke in court Monday and said Winchester’s community is devastated.
“She is our entire world and I don’t know if we can express how much you have wrecked our lives with this,” Rochelle said, adding that her mother was a dependable cab driver of 10 years. “She is the one who is supposed to be taking the drunk drivers to keep people safe and she was killed.”
Liebenrood was driving a 2004 Cadillac Escalade when she allegedly crossed into oncoming traffic and struck the 2005 Toyota Prius that Winchester was driving. Investigators found no indication from the road that either driver applied their brakes before impact. Winchester died at the scene.
In addition to Liebenrood admitting she had been drinking, and smelling like alcohol, investigators reported finding marijuana and three prescription medication bottles in her vehicle described as central nervous system depressants. A trooper who interviewed Liebenrood at St. Michael Medical Center described her as “incoherent” and speaking very softly.
The four serious collisions since June at the intersection were all caused by vehicles traveling south toward the Agate Pass Bridge during nighttime hours.
Three of the wrecks occurred within the same tenth of a mile, according to State Patrol statements.
There is a construction zone in the area, just outside the city limit of Poulsbo, where a roundabout is being built on the state highway.
In Liebenrood’s case, a State Patrol detective on the case wrote that the construction zone “did not play a factor in the events of the collision,” as it occurred before Liebenrood entered the construction zone. However, the detective wrote that the speed limit had been reduced to 35 mph “in anticipation of the construction project ahead.”
The road construction in the area is part of a long-planned City of Poulsbo project. A voicemail and email left Monday with a city official involved in the project were not immediately returned.
“I’m not aware of issues in that area,” said Doug Adamson, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. He referred questions to the Washington State Patrol.
Trooper Katie Weatherwax, a spokesperson for the Washington State Patrol, said four injury collisions within six months on the same stretch of state highway seemed high.
“In that same area, yeah it does,” Weatherwax said, but noted she was not closely familiar with the highway – she is based in Jefferson County.
Weatherwax noted that impairment appeared to be a factor in at least two of the crashes and noted that the wrecks occurred close to the Suquamish Clearwater Casino – the other two appeared to involve speeding or erratic driving. She didn’t know if it was coincidence that all four wrecks occurred at almost the same spot within about six months.
“That’s the million dollar question,” Weatherwax said.
— On December 3, a Bainbridge Island elementary school teacher, 36, was charged with vehicular assault for allegedly being impaired behind the wheel and crossing the center line, striking an oncoming car. The victim was flown to Harborview Medical Center for treatment. The State Patrol reported the crash occurred at milepost 10.1.
— On October 24, a 39-year-old Gig Harbor man made an “abrupt left turn” and slid off the roadway, rolling the Corvette he was driving. The man was flown to Harborview Medical Center for treatment. The State Patrol reported the crash occurred at milepost 9.
— On June 5, a 33-year-old Sequim man was injured after he crashed his motorcycle and was thrown down the construction zone embankment while attempting to flee a trooper. The man was taken to St. Michael Medical Center for treatment. The trooper had spotted the man speeding and turned on his lights but didn’t give chase, according to the State Patrol, which reported the crash occurred at milepost 10.1.
The crash Friday, that killed Winchester, occurred at milepost 10.1, according to the State Patrol.