Crime

Woman sentenced for DUI wreck that killed 3 tourists headed to Mount Rainier

Woman accused of vehicular homicide appears for arraignment

Amber Mae Smithlin appeared for an arraignment Aug. 14, 2018 in Pierce County Superior Court. Smithlin, 36, was charged with three counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of vehicular assault.
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Amber Mae Smithlin appeared for an arraignment Aug. 14, 2018 in Pierce County Superior Court. Smithlin, 36, was charged with three counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of vehicular assault.

A woman was sentenced Thursday for a DUI wreck that killed three tourists on a trip to Mount Rainier last year and injured another.

Amber Mae Smithlin, 36, and her young son also were injured in the crash.

Smithlin pleaded guilty to three counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault.

Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend gave her 13 years, two months in prison — which is what both the defense and prosecution recommended.

Deputy prosecutor Tim Jones told the court Smithlin was under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamine and had her young son in her minivan when she crashed into an SUV carrying four Californians on their way to Mount Rainier Aug. 6.

The wreck happened east of McKenna, at state Route 702 and Eighth Avenue South.

It killed 70-year-old Kum Ki and his wife, 67-year-old Dong Ki, and her friend — 58-year-old Kyung Lee.

Kum Ki’s brother, the 59-year-old driver of the SUV, spent more than a week in critical condition after the wreck but survived.

The Ki family lived in Fullerton. Lee lived in Buena Park.

They were “literally just out for an afternoon drive,” Jones told the judge.

He said Smithlin’s son, now 6, spent time in a full-body cast following the wreck and was released to his father’s custody.

Defense attorney Bryan Hershman told the court, “If there’s any sunshine in this case, it’s that the child is OK.”

Smithlin does not remember what happened, Hershman said.

She had been about to start college, with dreams of becoming a counselor, the attorney said.

Smithlin also had been in an unhealthy, abusive relationship, he said.

Charging papers say Smithlin told investigators that she had done shots at a friend’s house and left with her son following an argument with her boyfriend.

The minivan hit the SUV and a street sign before knocking down a utility pole, which started a brush fire.

The SUV landed on its roof, about 20 feet off the highway.

Hershman called his client’s remorse “sincere and profound.”

Smithlin read a letter in court, in which she wrote: “With all of my heart and soul, I apologize.”

She asked for forgiveness and said: “I don’t know if I can ever forgive myself.”

Smithlin also wrote that she wants to give speeches to educate others about the dangers of driving under the influence.

“I am determined that all of this pain will not be in vain,” she said.

Hershman said she has already shared her story in jail to help mentor younger inmates.

Judge Arend said she believed Smithlin was sincere but that the case is an example of why she disagrees with those who say substance abuse is a victimless crime.

She said untold lives were affected by Smithlin’s decision to drink and drive.

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Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.


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