Accused wrong-way driver plowed into house in April

Cerrissa Christensen, authorities say, was boozed up Tuesday when she got behind the wheel of a Yukon, drove in the wrong direction on Interstate 5 and torpedoed another car.

Before someone is charged in such a big mess involving drinking and driving, there are usually red flags.

And Christensen had several. This story is about one of them, a prior speed bump in a history of dangerous driving. Learning about her past makes me mad: At least one chance to get her off the road -- or get her help -- was missed. And now, 18-year-old Bawny McQuistin is dead, and her boyfriend, Eric Hillstrom, 19, is in the hospital with brain trauma, a sliced liver and fractures.

Go back six months, to April 6.

Bernard Buchanan had just told his two boys good night when he heard a thunderous noise coming from the first floor of his Skyway home. He went down to the boys' bedroom to investigate but couldn't open their door.

"Stop playing," he yelled.

Then he heard one of them say, "Help!"

According to a King County Sheriff's Office report, a Chevrolet Tahoe driven by Christensen rammed into the house, blasting into the boys' first-floor bedroom.

The vehicle slammed into the bed by the window, where Lamontay Lanier, 13 at the time, was lying down. Lanier, thrown into the air, landed on a bed where Demetreus Dowdy, then 14, was drifting off, their mother told me this week.

Miraculously, the boys were spared serious injury.

Buchanan rushed outside to a surreal scene -- a car embedded in his home. He said Christensen got out on the driver's side. Her passenger also got out.

"What the hell is going on?" Buchanan asked them. He said he noticed they had bloodshot eyes.

"I just lost control," Christensen replied.

Buchanan went back inside to call 911.

When he returned, Christensen had run off, ditching her female friend. Buchanan said the friend told him she was "too drunk" to run.

Sheriff's deputies took inventory: Christensen's vehicle had totaled a parked Dodge Dynasty that Buchanan bought for his daughter. His Ford Explorer was damaged. The Tahoe's tires had chewed up the yard.

Buchanan said he watched an officer pull what he believed to be a liquor bottle from Christensen's car. "An open liquor bottle -- almost empty," he recalled earlier this week, adding he could smell alcohol in the air. "And two cups."

A police report of the incident doesn't mention alcohol, a bottle or two cups, so I floated what Buchanan said to sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart.

"The officer said he didn't see an open container and didn't believe she (the driver) was drunk," Urquhart said.

So why did she run? "She said she was scared," Urquhart said.

Authorities said Christensen returned to the scene later, after an officer promised not to book her into jail that night, and spoke to detectives, according to the police report. She had changed -- from nightclub wear to casual sweats, Buchanan said.

Eventually, she was charged with hit and run and reckless endangerment in connection with the house crash. Her court date's in November.

But on Friday, she faced more serious charges -- vehicular homicide in connection with McQuistin's death -- and vehicular assault. Prosecutors said when she was arrested Tuesday for going as fast as 100 mph, a trooper noticed she had slurred her speech. She "uttered she only had three to four shots of tequila," according to court records.

Prosecutors say the "repeat DUI offender" was convicted of a DUI in 2003. She also has past convictions and citations for drug possession, speeding, negligent driving, hit and run and reckless endangerment.

Put another way, she's been speeding away from personal responsibility for some time -- and she's just 27.

Buchanan is shocked the same person who plowed into his house is now accused of killing someone.

"You bet I was upset," said Buchanan, a former assistant girls basketball coach at Garfield High School.

"She ran up into my house, she nearly took out the boys, she got out and ran away -- and now this. I feel bad for the dead girl's family. Really bad."

He believes if Christensen had been dealt with sternly after the April crash maybe, just maybe "that girl would still be living."

It's a strong maybe, actually.

This much is certain: The wrong-way driver now has the full attention of the criminal justice system.

But it took it way too damned long to notice.