By Natalie Singer
Seattle Times staff reporter
A woman who was drunk when she drove 90 mph in the wrong direction on Interstate 5, causing a head-on collision that left one teenager dead and another seriously injured, was sentenced Friday to 6 ½ years in prison, the maximum sentence under state law.
Cerrissa Christensen, who turns 28 today, had a history of driving under the influence and had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit when police caught her after the crash that killed Bawny McQuistin, 18, and injured Eric Hillstrom, 19, both of Tacoma.
Before King County Superior Court Judge Nicole MacInnes delivered her sentence, the families of the victims spoke in court about the emotional devastation caused by Christensen, who pleaded guilty last month.
"I don't know where to start," said Sterling Smith, McQuistin's father, his voice breaking. "She walked out of the door one day, never to be seen or held again. I thought we had all the time in the world. She was my baby; she was my sweetie. I miss her terribly."
McQuistin's mother, Leslie, described her daughter as an avid reader, an A student, a snowboarder and a lover of babies, animals and foreign films, who was independent and unique. "She was just testing her wings when she was killed," Leslie McQuistin said.
Sue Hillstrom, mother of Eric Hillstrom — who said in court he has no memory of the accident or some of his life before it — said legislators have not passed tough enough laws for drunken drivers.
"The defendant has a terrible record. If someone somewhere along the line had taken it more seriously, she would not have been on the road," she said.
Christensen, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.25 percent — well above the legal limit of 0.08 — when her blood was tested after the Oct. 9 crash, cried as she watched a video of Bawny McQuistin's life.
"I hope, someday, you can find the mercy in your hearts to forgive me," she then told the victims' friends and families.
Police said Christensen was speeding south in the northbound lanes of I-5 through Tukwila when officers pulled alongside with their lights flashing.
Other drivers were swerving to avoid her when Christensen's vehicle struck the truck being driven by Eric Hillstrom head-on, killing Bawny McQuistin. Hillstrom suffered severe head injuries, a lacerated liver, bruised lungs and a broken femur and hip.
When questioned afterward, Christensen cursed at the trooper who accused her of hitting and killing someone, charging papers said.
On Dec. 17, 2002, Christensen received a deferred prosecution for what was apparently her first DUI, on the condition she have no traffic violations, consume no alcohol or drugs and refrain from driving without a license for five years, court records show. In that case, her blood-alcohol level was 0.20 percent.
"You knew the potential of what you could do," MacInnes told her. MacInnes said she understood the frustration with the sentencing limit.
"You can't equate months and years in prison with somebody's life, but that is the only ability I have," she said.
Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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