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Driver in Memorial Day fatal crash will be arraigned on vehicular homicide charge Aug. 13

Dana Richard Kempton of Friday Harbor will be arraigned on a charge of vehicular homicide Aug. 13 in San Juan County Superior Court. The charge stems from a crash on Memorial Day in which Kempton
Dana Richard Kempton of Friday Harbor will be arraigned on a charge of vehicular homicide Aug. 13 in San Juan County Superior Court. The charge stems from a crash on Memorial Day in which Kempton's passenger was killed.
— image credit: Jane K. Fox / June 2010

Dana Richard Kempton of Friday Harbor will be arraigned on a charge of vehicular homicide Aug. 13 in San Juan County Superior Court. The charge stems from a crash on Memorial Day in which Kempton's passenger was killed.

Superior Court Judge Donald E. Eaton determined Wednesday there was probable cause to arraign Kempton on the charge, based on an investigation by the San Juan County Sheriff's Department.

Les Kempton, the defendant's father, said Thursday he and his family had not been notified that a charge would be filed. He said his son is living in Bellingham in Oxford House, a self-run, self-supported recovery house program for individuals recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction.

Investigators believe Kempton, who turned 24 Thursday, was driving his Dodge Caravan at a high rate of speed when it swerved, flipped and crashed near Cattle Point Road and Madden Lane at about 6:30 p.m. May 31. The passenger, John W. Parish, 25, was pronounced dead at the scene. Kempton was taken to Harborview Medical Center for treatment of injuries and released the next day. The crash occurred about 6:30 p.m.

Investigators say the Dodge Caravan flipped one-and-a-half times in the air, and then landed near the edge of the roadway.

Travis Berwald told investigators he was driving at 45-50 mph northbound on Cattle Point Road near the Homestead mobile home park when he saw a blue van in front of him driving erratically. Berwald passed the van after it stopped near False Bay Road. The van later passed him and the driver "flipped him off," Berwald told investigators. Berwald said the van "swerved all over the road," according to the investigation report. A white truck in the opposing lane swerved to avoid a collision with the van; the van swerved right, then apparently overcorrected, hit a ditch and "rolled," the report states.

Berwald went to the scene and found one man in the field with a faint pulse, which soon stopped. That man was later identified as Parish.

Another person helped the driver out of the van; a fire had started in the engine compartment. The driver was later identified as Kempton.

According to the investigation report, Sgt. Scott Brennan arrived on the scene and found Kempton disoriented and struggling with a paramedic and EMTs. Brennan said he could smell alcohol on Kempton at 3 to 4 feet. Kempton repeatedly asked, "Did I kill my friend?" the investigation report states.

Kempton's blood alcohol level was later determined to be .08, the investigation report states.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner determined that Parish died from blunt force injuries to his head and neck.

Kempton graduated from Friday Harbor High School in 2004. In The Journal's graduation section that year, Kempton wrote of wanting to move to Bellingham to study at a community college, with the goal of becoming a graphic designer. He took some classes at Skagit Valley College, his father said.

Until Memorial Day, Kempton had a "completely clean" driving record, his father said.

"He realized in March that he had an alcohol problem, and he voluntarily went to a program through Compass Health for two weeks and then went to Oxford House," Les Kempton said. "He lived there for about a month and a half and then came back here. He's been back at Oxford House for three or four weeks now. He was there before the accident, now he's back there."

The senior Kempton said his son voluntarily went back to Oxford House a week or two after the crash. He's working for a moving company there, and had worked for the moving company before the crash.

"Today's his birthday, and we're going up there tomorrow to get him signed up at Bellingham Tech. He wants to be a surgery technician," the father said.

Parish's death was the third motor vehicle fatality in the San Juans in less than one year.

On May 22, Michael Thor, 52, died when he fell to the ground while climbing out of his Hummer, which had overturned on his property on Miller Road, San Juan Island.

In July 2009, a Lopez Island motorist, now 16, struck and killed a British Columbia man who was jogging. A girl walking on the road with her family was sideswiped and lost a finger; a passenger in the vehicle was seriously injured. The teen driver received 15 to 36 weeks of detention, was ordered to perform 225 hours of community restitution, and was ordered to pay $790 in fines and fees.

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