Drunken driver’s guilty plea gives some relief to Wedgwood family
An unemployed electrician with a long history of alcoholism pleaded guilty Thursday to vehicular homicide and other charges stemming from a March 25 crash that killed a couple and critically hurt their daughter-in-law and infant grandson while they were out for a walk in Seattle’s Wedgwood n
Seattle Times staff reporter
For Dan Schulte, the string of guilty pleas uttered Thursday by the repeat drunken driver who killed his parents and left his wife and infant son fighting for their lives provided a measure of relief, but hardly justice.
Mindful that Mark W. Mullan faces nearly 18 years in prison under year-old sentencing laws for vehicular homicide, Schulte said nothing less than a life term would suffice.
“We’re relieved he has accepted responsibility for his actions,” Schulte said during a news conference after the plea hearing. “Our family will now have more time to focus on the continued recovery of my wife, Karina, and son, Elias. We’ll also be able to focus on honoring our parents’ legacy.”
Mullan, 51, an unemployed electrician with a long history of alcoholism, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the March 25 crash that killed Judy Schulte, 68, and Dennis Schulte, 66, and severely injured Karina Ulriksen-Schulte and her infant son.
The older couple had moved part time to Seattle from Indiana to be closer to their new grandchild.
The four were out for an afternoon walk when Mullan’s pickup barreled into them in an unmarked crosswalk at Northeast 75th Street in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood.
They were just 500 feet from Dan and Karina Schulte’s home.
Mullan failed field sobriety tests and had a preliminary breath-alcohol level of 0.22 percent, nearly three times the state’s legal limit of 0.08 percent shortly after the crash.
At the time, he was under the supervision of Seattle Municipal Court because of a previous drunken-driving arrest. He had defied a court order by failing to install an interlock device on his pickup.
Elias, born just 10 days earlier, suffered skull fractures and a brain injury and underwent emergency surgery for injuries to his liver and intestines, charging papers say. Ulriksen-Schulte suffered a crushed pelvis and later developed blood clots that caused a stroke and led to brain damage.
Karina and Elias spent months in a hospital.
Elias was eventually released, but is still struggling with vision problems and will require additional surgery around his first birthday. Nonetheless, Dan Schulte said “he’s acting like “a normal baby.”
Ulriksen-Schulte, 34, remains at a rehabilitation center, where she is completing the final stages of her inpatient care.
“She’s in her last step before moving on from her rehab facility. She’s starting to walk more, talk more; she still has a long road ahead,” Dan Schulte said.
Mullan, wearing red jail scrubs, answered King County Superior Court Judge Michael Trickey in a strong, clear voice when asked how he pleaded to the charges.
With tears welling in his eyes, Mullen pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide (DUI); two counts of vehicular assault (DUI); and violating the state’s ignition-interlock law.
Prosecutors will recommend Mullen serve nearly 18 years in prison when he returns to court Nov. 15 for sentencing.
Speaking after the hearing, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said “an 18-year sentence will protect the public from this repeat drunk driver, and that’s the best we can do in the criminal justice system.”
The accident helped spur a measure signed into law in July requiring the state to more closely monitor motorists who repeatedly drive under the influence.
Under the new law, drivers charged with a second impaired driving offense face mandatory arrest and booking in jail and must have an interlock device installed on their vehicles within five days of being charged.
Satterberg was among those who pushed for tougher vehicular homicide (DUI) sentencing laws that went into effect in June 2012.
Under the new law, the standard range sentence increased from 31-41 months to 78-102 months, making it equal to the range for first-degree manslaughter.
State Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said he has long worked on DUI legislation and that this case hit him particularly hard. He said he met with the Schulte family after the crash, and “I really feel for them.”
Goodman said “this tragic case spurred us into action last session.”
“We’re now going to be requiring people like him [Mullan] to install interlock devices and certify to the court that it has been done, not just leaving it on the honor system,” Goodman said. “This was a fella who ignored court orders and didn’t install the interlock device.”
Mullan previously had been arrested at least five times in the state for driving under the influence. Three were in the early 1990s.
Last Oct. 8, he was stopped and arrested by a State Patrol trooper for driving his truck 84 mph in a 60 mph zone along Alderwood mall Parkway just off Interstate 5. Tests showed his blood-alcohol level was 0.15 percent.
On Christmas Day, he was arrested by Seattle police after he twice ran his truck into the Seals Motel on Aurora Avenue North, where he had been staying.
Police wrote that he was so intoxicated he could not get out of his truck without the help of two officers.
Judges in Seattle and Snohomish County told Mullan that if he wanted to drive, he would have to install an ignition-interlock device that would prevent him from starting his pickup with alcohol on his breath.
Police said there was no such device on the pickup at the time of the March crash.
In August, the Schulte family filed a $45 million legal claim against the city of Seattle, saying the city should have done more to keep Mullan off the road.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.