Auburn woman, 29, pleads not guilty to rare DUI accomplice charges
Seattle Times staff reporter
A 29-year-old Auburn woman has pleaded not guilty to being an accomplice to drunken and reckless driving, two charges rarely seen in Washington or the United States, attorneys say.
Teresa Hedlund is accused of encouraging her fiancé's brother, Tom Stewart, to drive drunk July 16, the night they and five others were packed into a Ford Escort, driving from a party.
Police say the car was traveling about 60 mph in a 35-mph zone when it hit a curb, spun 360 degrees and smashed into an overpass pillar near the SuperMall of the Great Northwest in Auburn. The crash, which was blamed on alcohol and excessive speed, killed six people, including Tom Stewart and Hedlund's fiancé, Tim Stewart.
Court documents accuse Hedlund of "soliciting, commanding, encouraging, and requesting" Tom Stewart to drive. His blood-alcohol level was at least 0.15 percent, nearly double the state's legal threshold, according to court documents.
Hedlund, who hosted the party, has also been charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor.
The charges against her are gross misdemeanors, each punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. She has been released on her own recognizance, Auburn City Attorney Dan Heid said.
Accomplice charges are common in crimes such as burglary or armed robbery but rare in cases of driving violations.
"An accomplice charge can be associated with almost any offense," said Craig Allen, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law, but he said he'd never heard of it being used before in this context.
"The principle is sound. It's the application here that's unusual."
Heid said accomplice charges rarely are applied to driving violations because there's only one driver of a car. It's difficult to prove how someone's words or actions can influence a driver.
But in this case, Heid said, it's "a little bit different. It's a tragic event, and at the same time it's totally out of the ordinary."
Tom Campbell, Hedlund's attorney, said accomplice charges for driving violations are most common in cases of street racing, in which one racer gets in an accident and is charged with reckless driving while the other is charged as an accomplice.
Accomplice charges in drunken-driving cases are most common when the suspected accomplice handed car keys to the driver.
"She didn't hand him the keys, as far as I know," Campbell said.
In New Jersey this week, a man was being tried for manslaughter, vehicular homicide and aggravated assault by auto for allowing a friend to drive drunk. The friend's vehicle later collided with another car, killing the driver and himself.
Heid hasn't discussed what Hedlund did specifically to influence Stewart.
"I don't understand the city attorney's motivation," Campbell said. "You're making the woman relive this tragedy."
Campbell also declined to talk about specifics but said he thought the city did not have probable cause to charge her as an accomplice to drunken and reckless driving.
Brian Joseph: 206-464-2509 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.