Crime

Teenager accused of hit-and-run wreck that killed 77-year-old Tacoma great grandmother

Man charged in fatal hit-and-run appears for arraignment

Justice Oates, who is charged in a fatal hit-and-run, appeared for an arraignment at Pierce County Court.
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Justice Oates, who is charged in a fatal hit-and-run, appeared for an arraignment at Pierce County Court.

An 18-year-old said he fell asleep at the wheel and did not know he hit and killed a 77-year-old pedestrian in Tacoma last week, according to charging papers.

Justice Tatum Oates is suspected in the death of Karin Woodbury.

He pleaded not guilty at arraignment Tuesday to vehicular homicide, failing to remain at an accident resulting in death, duty on striking property and driving with a suspended or revoked license.

Pierce County Superior Court Commissioner Sabrina Ahrens set bail at $200,000.

Charging papers give this account of what happened:

Woodbury was found unconscious in the street about 9:30 p.m. May 14 in the 3000 block of 44th Avenue Northeast.

She was taken to St. Joseph Medical Center, where she died from her injuries the next day.

Police saw four smashed mailboxes near where she was found. Witnesses said they heard what sounded like something hitting a plastic garbage can, then saw a vehicle swerve past them and speed off.

Someone reported Monday that a person involved with the hit-and-run was at his workplace.

Police arrived, and Oates agreed to speak with a detective.

He said he had been working long hours prior to the wreck, was tired and fell asleep at the wheel while driving to a friend’s house.

He woke up after hitting some mailboxes, he said, and decided not to go to the friend’s house because he didn’t want the police to show up and wake him.

Oates said he did not know that he hit a pedestrian until his friend called him a couple hours later and said he’d hit a woman.

The detective asked Oates what he did then, and Oates said nothing — that he figured police would figure out what had happened.

Whitney Reed, who identified herself as Oates’ mother, said outside court Tuesday: “It was an absolute accident. He had no idea he hit a person. None whatsoever.”

Woodbury’s loved ones said the great grandmother of five lived an active life.

She had power-washed her roof and topped a tree on her property with a chainsaw several days before she was hit, they said.

“I’m lost for words,” son Steve Woodbury said outside court.

He said his mother was a longtime employee of Federal Way Public Schools. She started as a crossing guard and later worked with special needs children.

Former students have been reaching out since the news of her death to express their condolences, he said.

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