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Saturday, June 1, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

Father sentenced in drunken-driving wreck that killed wife, daughter

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Gig Harbor man whose drunken, high-speed driving left his wife and daughter dead and three other children in the car seriously injured was sentenced yesterday to five years and eight months in prison.

King County Superior Court Judge Michael Fox said Morial McDowell's conduct early Jan. 1, 2001, was the sole cause of the crash.

McDowell, 31, had a blood-alcohol level of .21, almost three times the legal limit, when police tried to stop him for driving erratically on Rainier Avenue South near Interstate 405 in Renton shortly after midnight. He sped away, the car flipped and everyone in the family, including five children, was thrown onto the pavement. No one was wearing a seat belt. Susie McDowell, 26, who was five months' pregnant, and the couple's 6-year-old daughter, Elaine, were killed.

"I would just like to say I'm sorry all this happened," McDowell told the court yesterday, in a voice that was barely audible.

Fox sentenced McDowell to the high end of the sentencing range for two counts of vehicular homicide and, for injuries sustained by three of the children, three counts of vehicular assault — to be served concurrently.

McDowell had pleaded guilty to the charges May 22. The case was delayed for several months last year when McDowell was sent to Western State Hospital to be treated for depression.

Fox said that before the accident, McDowell had been a good father, had worked consistently and alcohol had not been a major problem in his life.

But he said the "enormity of the consequences" of McDowell's drunken driving led him to impose the maximum sentence for the crime.

Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Amy Freedheim said McDowell had failed in the primary job of a parent, "to protect his children at all costs."

Freedheim said a drunken McDowell "crammed five unbelted children" in the back of a small Kia, sped away from police and flipped the car when he tried to negotiate an Interstate 405 onramp at high speed.

"This was not an accident but the result of choices the defendant made," Freedheim said.

She said the surviving children, three boys and a girl, were living with maternal relatives and doing well.

But she said, "they are just coming to terms with the fact that they're not going to see their mother again, and won't be seeing their father for a long time."

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-2922 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published May 31, was corrected June 3. A previous version of this story had stated Morial McDowell was sentenced to seven years in prison. McDowell was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison for two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault.

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