My sister would have been 63 today

by Phillip Drum, PharmD   Today my sister would be turning 63 — that is — if she hadn’t been killed by a stoned driver while on her way to work in 2012. The incident occurred a few months before Washington voters chose to legalize marijuana, without knowing that the guilty driver had used pot before the fatal crash.

Rosemary Tempel, RN, BSN, BC, CQIA was 56 years old at the time. She was driving to work at Virginia Mason Hospital in downtown Seattle, WA.  Timothy Durden was speeding in the center turn lane, traveling in the opposite direction while under the influence of marijuana.  He was speeding toward a stopped vehicle in a center turn lane.  At the last second before striking the stopped vehicle, Durden swerved, directing his Jeep into Rosemary’s car, which was traveling 35 mph in the opposite direction.  He catapulted over Rosemary’s car – crushing her and breaking her neck.  She had to be cut out of her vehicle.  

Durden’s car lost the two front wheels and tumbled down the busy road resulting in an 8-car pile up.  When pulling Durden’s vehicle upright, a Seattle police detective saw marijuana and multiple business cards to a marijuana dispensary fall from the vehicle.

Durden admitted to marijuana use.  He signed a document to volunteer to have his blood drawn 3 hours and 13 minutes after the incident.  It was found to have 3.2 ng/ml THC (a psychoactive component of marijuana).  He came out of the mess with only a broken fingernail.  

The initial coverup helped I-502

Although the crash occurred on July 17, 2012, Durden wasn’t charged until November 5th – less than one day before the state of Washington voted on I-502 – their recreational marijuana bill. Since Durden was NOT charged, the family could NOT warn the Washington public of the hazards that would be coming to them with many more marijuana-impaired drivers thanks to legalization of marijuana.  In early September 2012, the auto insurance company, not the Seattle Police Department, notified our family that marijuana was involved in the crash.

DUI murders are murders, regardless of the drug.  In the state of Washington, there’s clear judicial prejudice which treats marijuana DUIs  lightly in comparison to alcohol DUIs.   A week before the vote to legalize, on Halloween in Enumclaw, Cody Money killed 16-year-old Justin Relethford.  Money tested at 9.5 ng/ml for THC drawn over 2 hrs after driving (there was NO legal limit for THC when Justin was killed). The public didn’t know about this marijuana DUI murder either before the legalization vote and the killer got off lightly – accepting a plea deal for NO felony charge for killing a pedestrian and minimal jail time.

Durden was finally arraigned on November 15, 2012.  King County Superior Judge Ronald Kessler reduced Durden’s bail from $100,000 to $50,000.  In comparison, an alcohol-impaired driver who caused a one- fatality crash in June 2012 had bail set at $250,000.  Two months later, an alcohol-impaired driver who murdered another women in the Seattle area had her bail set at $500,000. These two cases were arraigned in 17 and 13 days following their crashes, respectively, both in the Seattle area.  Rosemary’s murderer was never arrested and had been granted 110 days of freedom before arraignment.  Durden was charged with reckless driving resulting in homicide and an assault.

A history of getting off lightly

Durden had 42 court appearances in his 49 years of life.   He had two felonies – one for selling marijuana and cocaine to an undercover police officer.  His second felony, connected to an assault of his wife  while under the influence of marijuana and alcohol. He was still on probation for the second felony at the time he murdered Rosemary. He also had multiple DUIs for marijuana, but had plea bargained all of his previous convictions avoiding prison sentences. One plea deal stipulated he would serve jail time if he had a subsequent marijuana DUI within a year.  That consequence was not enforced even when committed in the same county (Evergreen District Courthouse) where the first DUI occurred.

Our family hired a lawyer to convince the King County DA to provide an appropriate charge of DUI homicide + assault.  This was finally done and the Assistant DA was replaced as requested due to incompetence.  The family also had to force analysis of the “vegetable matter” that fell from Durden’s vehicle in front of the police detective.  It tested positive as marijuana.  The family also had to pay and perform a Carfax on Durden’s vehicle on the one year anniversary of Rosemary’s murder.  The Carfax demonstrated the defense’s claim – that the  vehicle pulled Durden into Rosemary – was completely false.  Durden made claims that he had taken his car to a mechanic a month before the crash to evaluate the car pulling him to the left.  The Carfax revealed  the mechanic was actually simply an oil change and lube performed in a dealership in Renton, WA. 

Judicial Prejudice

During a pre-trial hearing on October 28, 2013, Judge Monica Benton threw out the marijuana blood evidence and thus the vehicular homicide (DUI) charge, stating she “did not believe” the testimony of the Seattle Police Department Drug Recognition Expert’s (DRE).  That testimony was under oath and had written corroborating evidence. Benton also suppressed evidence of Durden’s two previous DUI charges – citing them as not relevant and prejudicial.  His driving without auto insurance at the time of the incident, previous possession of controlled substances, domestic violence while under the influence of marijuana and selling cocaine and marijuana to an undercover officer were withheld from the jury. 

Judge Benton had previous experience with Durden.   She had permitted Durden to continue his use of marijuana while on probation for a domestic violence charge.  Despite knowing Durden had committed the vehicular homicide of Rosemary while being on probation from case followed by her courtroom, Benton refused to recuse herself from the murder case.

Durden was found guilty by jury and was released home after a reckless driving homicide verdict by Benton in mid-November.  He was ordered to pay 10% of a $100,000 bail within the next 24 hours.  After 48 hours, Durden was finally arrested and finally began spending time in jail in November 2013 – his first time in jail following the July 17, 2012 murder.  Within 72 hours, Durden paid the bail and remained free until sentencing.

On December 13, 2013, Timothy Durden was sentenced to 4.5 years for the jury conviction of vehicular homicide (reckless) + vehicular assault. 

Justice misconduct charges denied

The family filed a judicial misconduct complaint against Benton.  The ten-page complaint along with 10 pieces of corroborating evidence included cause for failing to follow:      

(State of WA Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 2.2) impartiality and fairness;     

(Rule 2.3) bias, prejudice and harassment;     

(Rule 2.7) responsibility to decide;

(Rule 2.8) decorum, demeanor and communication;     

(Rule 2.5) competence, diligence and cooperation.

After one year the Commission on Judicial Conduct on December 10, 2014 reported – “Under the state constitution, the authority of the Commission is limited to enforcing the Code of Judicial Conduct.  The Commission determined that no violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct warranting sanctions was substantiated by clear, cogent and convincing evidence in this matter.  Accordingly, this complaint has been closed.”

Durden was released from jail in less than 3 years time spent on November 28, 2016 more than 1.5 years early due to “good behavior” – whatever that is for a murderer.  Durden has failed to pay the over $22,300 fine (to pay for funeral and many other costs) to Rosemary’s survivors imposed on him by Benton.  And the state of Washington has failed to force compliance with Benton’s decision.  Dateline, 20/20, and 60 Minutes all have refused to investigate this case.