A year after deadly tanker truck crash, suspect pleads not guilty

KENT, Wash. - A 22-year-old Renton man pleaded not guilty in a King County courtroom Thursday to charges of vehicular homicide and reckless endangerment more than a year after a deadly crash that killed a 68-year-old man.

The suspect, Steven Palmer, faced the judge nearly 13 months after prosecutors say he caused the fiery crash while under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.

The crash killed 68-year-old tanker truck driver Joe Bartkowski of Sumner and involved other vehicles as well on Interstate 5 in Federal Way in November 2012.

Bartkowski's widow, Sharon was in the courtroom Thursday.

"Right is right and wrong is wrong, and he made a mistake and he needs to be held responsible for what he did," she said while surrounded by friends and family in the courtroom.

The crash happened about 2 a.m. Nov. 4, 2012, when Bartkowski came upon the crash scene in his tanker truck and swerved to avoid the cars.

His tanker rolled, hit the barrier wall and caught fire, sending a huge plume of smoke and flames into the air. Officials with the Washington Department of Ecology said the tanker being hauled by Bartkowski was carrying 9,000 gallons of fuel.

"I hope this young man will be held responsible for what he did, for causing my husband to die," said Sharon Bartkowski.

Palmer's attorney entered a not guilty plea in court. Palmer himself had little else to say.

But outside the courtroom, where he was surrounded by people who appeared to be there to support him, he began to cry.

Palmer declined comment, but Bartkowski's widow, despite all her pain, shared her feelings when she saw the man who prosecutors say is responsible for her husband's death.

"I naturally feel bad for someone so young to have to face this," she said.

Palmer will be back in court on Jan. 29.