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Originally published Monday, November 5, 2012 at 7:19 PM

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Renton driver held on $100,000 bail in fatal I-5 crash

Bail was set at $100,000 Monday for a 21-year-old Renton man who is accused of causing a three-vehicle collision on Interstate 5 near Federal Way early Sunday that killed a truck driver whose load of aviation fuel ignited in a fiery, rollover crash.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Lying worm tries to pin it on his sister, what a loser. It must have been horrifying... MORE
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Bail was set at $100,000 on Monday for a 21-year-old Renton man who is accused of causing a three-vehicle collision on Interstate 5 near Federal Way early Sunday that killed a truck driver whose load of aviation fuel ignited in a fiery, rollover crash.

Stephen Palmer, who was booked into the King County Jail on investigation of vehicular homicide, is expected to be formally charged Tuesday, according to King County prosecutors.

The results of toxicology tests on Palmer's blood are pending, according to the probable-cause statement outlining the State Patrol's case against him.

The Patrol is asking anyone who witnessed the 2:30 a.m. crash on southbound I-5 near South 336th Street to contact Detective Russ Haake at 425-401-7717.

Palmer was driving a black Nissan Altima south on I-5 with three female passengers, including his sister, the probable-cause statement says. Palmer allegedly lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a guardrail; he and his passengers were able to move to the freeway shoulder but the Altima, which came to rest in the roadway, was then struck by a Toyota Camry, according to the statement.

The Camry's driver, 24-year-old Jesus Chavas, of Tacoma, also was able to get out of his vehicle and move to the shoulder, it says.

Soon after, the Altima was hit by a Kenworth semitruck transporting two tanker trailers filled with aviation fuel (an initial report stating that the semi hit the Camry was incorrect, according to a Patrol spokeswoman).

The semi, driven by Joseph Bartkowski, 68, of Sumner, veered off the freeway, went down an embankment, struck a sound wall, rolled over and burst into flames, the statement says. Bartkowski died at the scene.

Investigators were initially told by Palmer and his sister that the sister was driving, but the two other passengers in Palmer's vehicle disputed that account, according to the statement.

Palmer's sister, the two other female passengers in the Altima and Chavas, the Camry driver, were taken to Saint Francis Hospital in Federal Way, the statement says.

A trooper "detected a mild odor of intoxicants" on Palmer's breath, according to the statement. The 21-year-old claimed he had drunk only one shot of alcohol roughly seven hours earlier, it says.

According to the statement, a State Patrol drug-recognition expert said that Palmer showed numerous signs of horizontal gaze nystagmus, an involuntary jerking of the eyeball that's consistent with alcohol or drug impairment.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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