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Driver in fatal Federal Way crash faces tougher state laws

A 31-year-old woman pleaded not guilty to vehicular homicide Monday morning at the Regional Justice Center for allegedly causing a head-on collision that killed 48-year-old Jana Lynn Berry last month in Federal Way.

Michelle Dittamore will have a case setting hearing July 23 at the King County Courthouse and remains in jail on $250,000 bail. The collision occurred around 11 p.m. June 7 in the 37000 block of Pacific Highway South.

According to police, Dittamore’s Honda S2000 was heading northbound on Pacific Highway with its lights off. The vehicle crossed the center line and struck the victim’s Honda Civic head-on, causing the Civic to go airborne. The Civic landed sideways and was struck by a third driver.

Dittamore's car struck a second car, injuring the driver, according to county prosecutors. Police reported that she was intoxicated at the scene. According to police, Dittamore had no prior DUI convictions, although she was driving with a suspended license. She also had her 4-year-old son in the car with her at the time of the accident. The child suffered minor injuries.

The third driver, an adult male, suffered only minor injuries.

The collision occurred on the first day that a pair of Washington state laws went into effect. The laws enact a tougher sentencing range for cases involving drunk-driving fatalities.

The first law raised the prison sentence for the crime of vehicular homicide. The second law added a 12-month sentencing enhancement for having a child under age 16 in the vehicle at the time she caused the collision.

Dittamore would be the first person in the state charged under the new sentencing grid, which increases a vehicular homicide (DUI) sentence from 31-41 months to 78-102 months, the same as first degree manslaughter, which is defined under state law as a reckless act that kills.

She could also face the 12-month sentencing enhancement of 12 months, passed in the 2012 Legislature, for having her child in the vehicle.

“The new law puts homicide by impaired driving in line with other acts constituting manslaughter,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, who along with other county prosecutors lobbied for the tougher sentence range and enhancement in the 2012 legislative session. “Unfortunately, the new law was only in effect for several hours before we had our first vehicular homicide."

 

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