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Saturday, March 23, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Father witnessed fatal accident, not knowing it was his daughter

Seattle Times Snohomish County reporter

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Brian Christianson was driving to pick up his 20-year-old daughter Alina at her best friend's house when he was narrowly missed by a speeding car. He heard a crash, and saw in his rear-view mirror that the car had hit another car.

He didn't know then that Alina had already found another ride home. He also didn't know that he had just witnessed her death.

Alina Christianson and her best friend, 19-year-old Jason Carney, were killed instantly in the hit-and-run accident, which happened early in the morning of March 3 in the Clearview area of Snohomish County, southeast of Mill Creek.

It wasn't until about an hour after the crash that Christianson realized who the victims were — not until after he had asked someone at a nearby house to call 911, continued on to Jason's Snohomish house and found Alina and Jason weren't there, then returned to his house and found they weren't there, either.

"You go through a bunch of thoughts," the 51-year-old Bothell man said. "If any one thing could have been different ... seconds different. You think about all the things that could have been different in the whole day."

No arrests had been made in the case as of yesterday, but the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office has identified a person of interest. "The Sheriff's Office is working very hard to resolve this as quickly as possible ... and has several investigators working on it," spokeswoman Jan Jorgensen said. "It was a terrible tragedy."

Hundreds of people crowded into memorial services held recently for the two longtime friends — both confident, affable youths, honor students at Edmonds Community College with plans to attend four-year universities.

Right after the accident, Brian Christianson stopped and tried to check on the victims. Because Jason's car was so badly damaged, he couldn't even see the driver and thought the young woman he glimpsed was the only person in the car.

It was dark, and he couldn't see her well, but he saw enough to know she had died in the crash.

"I'm looking for somebody alive here," he recalled. "I'm not thinking, 'Do I know this person?' "

And it wouldn't have made sense that it was Alina. She had called shortly after midnight to say she needed a ride home from Jason's house, where she had gone to watch movies Saturday night.

When Christianson arrived there, nobody answered the door. He thought maybe he had misunderstood where he was supposed to go, so he returned home and soon set out again for the Carney house.

Christianson thinks maybe they passed him on the road that second time, because when the crash happened, they had been heading back toward Jason's home — another reason it didn't occur to him at first that they could be inside the crashed car.

When he went to check on the victims, he saw a young man walking away and believes he was the driver of the other car. Police found two cars at the scene — Jason's and a 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Both families say they feel no bitterness toward the driver.

"We just hope that he will face the truth," said Christianson's wife, Marie.

Eleven years ago, the couple's only son, Andrew, died in a car accident at age 15, which made the Christiansons even more protective of Alina and her younger sister Kari, now 17. The girls participated in a home-school program, and it was there that Alina met Jason.

They cooked together and took part in plays and a YMCA youth-government program, picking up scores of friends along the way. Alina was warm, hard-working and energetic, an independent thinker with an offbeat sense of humor.

"She was great for one-line comebacks," her father said. "She could hold her own pretty well with anybody."

Jason was the kind of guy parents want their daughters to grow up and marry — a gentleman who wore a top hat and gloves to formal dances and made sure girls didn't sit out. A math whiz with a 3.98 grade-point average, he was studying computer science and trying to decide between Western Washington University and the University of Oklahoma.

Affectionate with his family, he had an especially close relationship with his 17-year-old sister, Jenna. "He was the other half of my daughter's heart," said his mother, Becky Carney. His death "has just left a huge hole. A huge hole."

"Jason was a girl's kind of guy, and Alina was a guy's kind of girl, and somewhere in the middle they just met," Marie Christianson said. "If either of them would have been left behind, it would have been so incredibly difficult for the other one."

Alina, who wanted to go into child psychology, had one quarter left at Edmonds and was within a day or two of sending off an application to Western Washington University. Like many parents, Marie Christianson had mixed feelings about her daughter leaving home for college.

"Every night, I'd talk to her about it," she said. "I'd look at her and say, 'What am I going to do when you go away?' "

Janet Burkitt can be reached at 206-515-5689 or jburkitt@seattletimes.com.

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