DUI offender arrested in fatal I-5 crash

Speeding driver going wrong way on freeway slams into pickup

Recent high school graduate Bawny McQuistin, 18, was killed in Tuesday's crash.
Recent high school graduate Bawny McQuistin, 18, was killed in Tuesday's crash.

A Seattle woman suspected of driving drunk and killing a recent high school graduate in a crash on Interstate 5 Tuesday was on probation for a previous drunken-driving offense, according to court records.

Cerissa R. Christensen, 27, of Seattle, was arrested on suspicion of vehicular homicide after her sport utility vehicle slammed into an oncoming pickup near state Route 599 in Tukwila. She had been driving on the wrong side of the freeway.

Christensen was convicted of DUI in 2003 and had appeared in court just seven days ago on a probation violation.

About 1:15 a.m. Tuesday, state troopers fielded the first 911 calls about a 1999 GMC Yukon hurtling south in the northbound lanes of Interstate 5, near Interstate 90. A trooper turned around and caught up the vehicle, positioning his patrol car parallel to the Yukon from a southbound lane. The trooper, with help from a Seattle police officer, tried to get her attention, activating his emergency lights and shining his spotlight on her window as he kept pace from the other side of the freeway, Trooper Jeff Merrill said.

But the driver never slowed. Minutes later, the Yukon slammed head-on into a 1988 Chevrolet pickup driven by Eric Hillstrom, 19, of Tacoma. His girlfriend, Bawny McQuistin, 18, of Tacoma, died upon impact, Merrill said.

Hillstrom was rushed to Harborview Medical Center, where he is in critical condition.

"She did look and make eye contact (with the trooper) a couple of times just prior to striking the other vehicle traveling northbound," Merrill said.

"When she was questioned by the trooper, she wanted to know why he was stopping her. She was so impaired, she had no idea what she was doing or where she was at. This was after she just got done destroying her vehicle," Merrill said.

McQuistin graduated from Stadium High School in Tacoma after finishing classes at Tacoma Community College through the Running Start program. She was working part time for a technology company while sorting out what she wanted to do with her life, said Leslie McQuistin, her aunt. She was also her legal guardian until Bawny turned 18.

"I want her to be remembered for who she was, which was a really smart, wonderful, full-of-life person who didn't get to choose whatever path she was going to choose," McQuistin said.

Christensen was taken to Harborview with less serious injuries. A state trooper has been assigned to guard her room after she twice tried to escape, Merrill said. She is expected to be booked into the King County Jail on suspicion of vehicular homicide and assault.

In 2002, Christensen was convicted of drunken driving in Pacific Municipal Court, southeast of Federal Way, and was sentenced to two days in jail. Initially, the court offered to defer her prosecution, but she broke terms of her probation in 2004, according to court records.

With her conviction, she was sentenced to five years' probation under terms that she complete treatment for alcohol abuse and avoid alcohol and drug use. Her record showed that she had attended counseling and had no more serious violations until King County sheriff's deputies arrested her in April.

In that case, Christensen allegedly crashed into a parked car and caromed into a house in Renton while driving a friend home early April 6. Her Yukon smashed into a young child's bedroom and severed a water line, according to a police report. The child was not hurt.

Her friend stayed at the crash scene and spoke with police. An hour later, Christensen returned and surrendered, police say. She was charged with hit-and-run and reckless endangerment in King County District Court, where her trial was slated for Nov. 8. There was no record of alcohol as a factor in that case.

Police estimated the Yukon's speed Tuesday at 100 mph before the crash, Merrill said.