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Originally published Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 9:10 PM

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Amid grief and despair, man pushes for tougher DUI laws

A Seattle man who lost his parents in a drunken-driving crash that also left his wife and child critically injured talks about the need for tougher DUI laws.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The 10 days that followed the March 15 birth of his son were the happiest of Dan Schulte’s life.

The next 10 were the worst, he said.

In his first public comments since the March 25 crash that claimed the lives of his parents and severely injured his wife and infant son, Schulte spoke Tuesday about his family’s prognosis, how he’s dealing with the tragedy and his hopes of effecting change in the state’s drunken-driving laws.

“A tragedy like this is actually indescribable,” said Schulte, who was joined at a news conference at Seattle Children’s hospital by his sister, Marilyn Schulte, and two physicians who are treating his wife and son.

Schulte’s parents, Dennis and Judy Schulte, were killed while they were on a walk in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood with Schulte’s wife, Karina Ulriksen-Schulte, 34, and their first grandchild, Elias.

According to police and prosecutors, the four were crossing Northeast 75th Street when they were struck by a pickup driven by 50-year-old Mark Mullan, whose blood-alcohol level after the crash was measured at 0.22 percent — about three times the legal limit for driving.

Mullan has pleaded not guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of vehicular assault and a single count of reckless driving. He is being held in the King County Jail in lieu of $2.5 million bail.

Dennis, 66, and Judy Schulte, 68, who had just moved to Seattle from Kokomo, Ind., to be near their son and his family, died at the scene.

Speaking out against drunken driving and the need to strengthen the state’s laws, Schulte said such crashes are “something that’s preventable.”

“It’s hit our family harder than it has most, but it could happen to anyone and we’re just here to say it shouldn’t happen to anyone,” said Schulte, 32, a program-implementation coordinator for a public-relations and social-marketing firm.

According to the physicians treating Ulriksen-Schulte and Elias, both suffered devastating brain trauma. Although their prognoses will not be known for some time, doctors said their conditions are improving.

Saman Arbabi, head of the medical team treating Ulriksen-Schulte, said she suffered a stroke after the crash and sustained damage to the left side of her brain. She has since stabilized enough to be transferred from Harborview Medical Center to a skilled-nursing and rehabilitative facility.

But the communication center of her brain is permanently damaged, he said.

However, Arbabi held out hope that other areas of her brain will develop new pathways and take over the work of the injured areas.

Schulte said his wife, who worked as a nurse at Children’s, has “a pretty long road ahead of her” but he remains hopeful.

About his son’s recovery, Schulte said he has “heard some people use the word ‘miracle’ for him, which is pretty awesome.”

Elias, now being treated at Seattle Children’s hospital, had a shunt inserted into his skull to drain fluids that could have damaged his brain. He also suffered skull fractures that left pieces of bone in the membrane that covers the brain, according to one of his doctors, Francois Aspesberro.

Schulte said he had been able to feed his son with a bottle Tuesday, a joyful activity as the doctors had said Elias needed to relearn how to eat.

There are still unknowns about his recovery, but “he’s come a long ways,” he said.

Aspesberro said there are questions whether the baby’s vision has been impaired, and, if so, to what extent.

However, he said Elias is resilient and strong. He remained in motion through his early recovery, which the doctor said is a good sign.

Schulte said his parents were “amazing people” who affected thousands in Indiana, where both were educators and heavily involved in their church. Dennis Schulte was a beloved coach and Judy Schulte organized a program that gave out lunches to children in need.

Their son said he takes comfort in knowing his parents’ “last week was one of the best weeks of their lives.”

“I’ve definitely had moments of despair,” Schulte added. “I have a new life, and I have to deal with it.”

According to court records, Mullan had been arrested at least five times for investigation of driving under the influence since the early 1990s. The last two were in Snohomish and King counties within six months of the fatal crash.

One week after the Schultes were killed, a 58-year-old Seattle woman was killed in a crash with a wrong-way driver on Highway 520 near the University of Washington.

Michael A. Robertson, 25, has been charged with vehicular homicide and ordered held on $1 million bail. Police and prosecutors say Robertson was driving under the influence when he crashed head-on into a car driven by Morgan Williams.

In the wake of the three deaths, Washington lawmakers plan to overhaul the state’s DUI laws.

“This is preventable and it should be prevented,” Schulte said of drunken driving. “I don’t know what (the solution) looks like yet and I don’t know if I’m going to devote my life to it, but that’s possible. ... We are hoping that this horrible event can result in some positive outcomes.”

Christine Clarridge can be reached at cclarridge@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8983.

Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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