Family torn apart by falling tree on Hwy 2 files claim against the state

SEATTLE -- The surviving members of a local family have filed a claim against the state after a {A href=""}falling tree on Highway 2 killed their parents and left them severely injured.

Members of the Owen family struggle every day. Jessie Owen is still tied to a wheelchair with long-term spinal damage.

His sister, Jamie Owen Mayer, recently began walking again with crutches. Jamie's husband, Steven Mayer, is still in a wheelchair, and all three will likely face more surgeries.

Like them, their younger brother Jeremy carries deep emotional pain over the loss of their parents, Tim and Cheryl Owen.

"It's hard knowing that they're not just a phone call away, or we can't just drop by," Jamie said.

The Owen parents died last December when a massive grand fir hit their SUV while the family traveled east of Stevens Pass on Highway 2.

The Washington State Patrol accident report, along with 911 recordings from the days surrounding the crash, indicate trees were an ongoing hazard in the area.

Neither WSP nor the Washington Department of Transportation would talk about how or why the state kept the road open because of the possibility of a lawsuit, but a WSDOT spokesman did say safety is the department's top priority.

"We have on many, many occasions throughout every winter season closed down those roadways," said WSDOT's Lars Erickson.

But attorney Karen Koehler said this was a preventable accident.

"This is not a case of, 'We didn't know, it was unexpected, we could not possibly have foreseen this,'" Koehler said. "This was in the middle of a state of emergency with hundreds of trees falling."

Koehler has filed six claims against the state -- for the deaths of Tim and Cheryl and for the physical and emotional damage their three children and son-in law still face.

The state has 60 days to answer the claim before the Owen family can file any lawsuit.