We've had quite a time lately, talking about the effect alcohol can have on a political career. In recent weeks, King County Councilwoman...

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We’ve had quite a time lately, talking about the effect alcohol can have on a political career.

In recent weeks, King County Councilwoman Jane Hague and Seattle City Council candidate Venus Velázquez have pleaded not guilty to charges of driving under the influence. Neither has been much for apologies, or the Big Picture. In an interview with KING-TV Sunday, Velázquez said she wanted voters to consider the context of her troubles.

“This would be simply a personal issue,” she said, “had I not been running.”

Away from the headlines and political handicapping, though, is a far more dire consequence of drunken driving.

Eric Hillstrom, 19, has been unconscious at Harborview Medical Center since Oct. 9.

On that morning, prosecutors say, his pickup was hit head-on by a 1999 Yukon driven by Cerrissa Christensen, 27, of Seattle. She was driving southbound in the northbound lane of Interstate 5, while Hillstrom and his girlfriend, Bawny McQuistin, 18, were driving north.

McQuistin died instantly. Hillstrom was taken to Harborview with a head injury, a fractured spine, broken limbs.

Christensen broke her ankle. Prosecutors say she tried to flee Harborview several times and was put under police guard. She’s now at the King County Jail, charged with vehicular manslaughter. State troopers say her blood-alcohol level was 0.25 percent, more than three times the legal limit. She has pleaded not guilty.

Just steps from where Christensen was treated, Hillstrom’s family has kept vigil. They don’t know if Eric can hear them, so they’ve never said Bawny is gone.

His mother, Sue Hillstrom, 50, has taken time off from teaching at Green River Community College. Her husband, Don, 54, is an engineer. The Tacoma couple worry whether Eric will recover, and what his care will cost.

“Are we going to have to sell the house?” she asked.

Friends have set up an assistance fund at Bank of America to help. Go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/erichillstrom for more information.

And yet, Sue Hillstrom feels no anger toward Christensen: “I don’t know why,” she said.

What enrages her is the political waving away of DUIs as if they were parking tickets. “People get a DUI and everyone says, ‘Oh, well, nothing happened, so let’s forget about it.’ These isolated incidents are part of a bigger picture and we don’t take it seriously.”

State Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, is trying to change that. When the new session starts in January, he hopes to introduce legislation that would decrease the number of DUI convictions a person can have before being charged with a felony. He cited Hillstrom’s case in his proposal.

Christensen could be a poster child for a new law: She has a 2002 conviction for drunken driving, for which she received a deferred prosecution. That was revoked in April, when she was charged with hitting an unoccupied car and driving away.

“I am worried about this woman,” Hillstrom said of Christensen, “if she is out in three or four years. …

“And then you will be here talking to someone else.”

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

Sparkle on, Porter Wagoner.