Yakima man struggling with loss after wife fatally struck by car

'I want her to wake up and be with me and I can never go back'

YAKIMA, Wash. — It’s been almost a month since 26-year-old Carollee Fisher was fatally struck by a car while walking in a crosswalk in Yakima.

Since then, her husband, John Fisher has been trying to deal with the emotional toll of losing Carollee, while also being overwhelmed by medical bills, funeral costs and loss of income.

“I want her to wake up and be with me and I can never go back,” Fisher said. “I don’t know how to build a life out of anything because there’s just ashes left.”

No charges have been filed yet against the 64-year-old driver. Police said the man was not driving under the influence, but failed to see Carollee in the crosswalk. Prosecutors are still considering whether to charge the man, but lawyers familiar with the case said it’s unlikely.

Chris Davis — an attorney with Davis Law Group in Seattle — said cases like John’s are unfortunately common, where criminal charges are unlikely, civil cases can be long and difficult, government programs for financial assistance are limited, drivers are uninsured and the family is left with the bill.

“It’s incredibly unjust and it happens all the time,” Davis said. “When it happens to you or a family member, it’s devastating.”

‘The girl at register five’

John met Carollee several years ago, while they were both working at Walmart. For a long time — though they spoke often —  he didn’t know her name, but fell in love with her anyway, calling her ‘the girl at register five’ when talking about her to his friends.

“One day I went to find out what her name was and I bought this pack of gum and looked at her name tag,” Fisher said. “I said, ‘Thank you, Carollee,’ and I ran around the corner right into a magazine rack.”

They were married June 21, 2018 — exactly three years ago Monday — at Wixson Park in Selah, where Carollee used to play with her sister when she was a child.

“I remember we ended up making most of the stuff instead of buying it because it was ridiculously expensive,” Fisher said. “It was the happiest day of my life; I got to marry my soul mate.”

Fisher said Carollee was always helping people and doing what she could to make their lives better. When a homeless man came in to buy a sandwich and didn’t have enough money, she would make up the difference to ensure he was able to eat.

“I always used to think I was a good person and then I met her and she was so much better than I could ever hope to be,” Fisher said. “She was kind and caring and loving and she protected and fought for everyone.”

At the funeral, John met many people he didn’t know, all people who Carollee had been there for at some point in their lives. He said a mother and her son, who has special needs, came to the funeral because of Carollee’s kindness to them.

“He would go into Walmart to find her and he would talk to her,” Fisher said. “He just wanted a high-five and it’s such a simple thing.”

Carollee struggled with Type 1 diabetes and helped others dealing with the same to learn how to better take care of themselves. Fisher said shortly after they were married, her A1C tests showed Carollee’s average blood sugar levels at 13.8% — more than twice the normal range.

“We were worried it was going to be so long before we could have children,” Fisher said.

Just five days before Carollee died, doctors told her and John that her A1C tests showed her within the normal range — they could start trying to have children.

“I was supposed to graduate in December and we were going to start having kids right after…We were hoping to get a house,” Fisher said. “That’s all gone now.”

Driver unlikely to face criminal charges

Police said Carollee was walking in a crosswalk at the intersection of South 40th Avenue and West Tieton Drive, near Eisenhower High School, when she was struck by a car. She was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she died two days later — a month before their three year anniversary.

The 64-year-old man driving the car reportedly told police he didn’t see the woman as he tried to make the turn onto North 40th Avenue. Police said the man was not under the influence at the time of the incident.

Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Brusic said he’s still considering whether to file vehicular homicide charges against the man and plans to make his decision in the next few days.

Under Washington state law, vehicular homicide occurs when someone dies as a result of an injury caused by a driver of any vehicle, but only if the driver was operating the vehicle, “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug… in a reckless manner; or with disregard for the safety of others.”

If a driver wasn’t impaired or driving recklessly from a legal standard, but wasn’t paying enough attention or made a mistake, it’s often not considered to be a criminal act, despite the accident resulting in severe injury or death.

“A lot of times in a tragic situation where there’s a terrible loss of life, people automatically assume that there’s a criminal act that takes place,” Brusic said. “And that’s not always necessarily true, because pure ordinary negligence could take place, which takes it out of the realm of being able to be charged out under vehicular homicide.”

Davis said it’s unlikely that the driver in Carollee’s case will face criminal charges.

“In my experience, there is a sizable percentage of cases like this, where there’s been a terrible harm — death or some sort of catastrophic injury, paralysis, etc. — and the only real recourse would be a civil claim,” Davis said. 

Davis said more often than not, no charges are filed in cases like this because the standard for vehicular homicide is so high and there’s no other criminal charges that directly apply to these situations.

“There’s definitely a gap; there are a lot of cases like this one where there isn’t a criminal offense that would be available to be assessed against a driver who’s careless and kills somebody,” Davis said.

Davis said in his more than three decades of experience with the law, he hasn’t seen any efforts by lawmakers to lower the threshold for vehicular homicide or create new charges to address the gap.

“Unless there’s something that I don’t know, it’s probably going to stay a civil matter and that would be John’s only recourse for justice to what happened to his wife,” Davis said.

Underinsured drivers place financial burden on victims, families

While a civil suit is possible and often the only recourse for justice, it takes a lot of time and money for an uncertain outcome. Davis said even if they win, it’s unlikely whatever money they receive as restitution will cover all the medical expenses, funeral costs and the cost of the lawsuit itself.

“In most cases like this, there’s simply not enough insurance or compensation from the other side to pay 100% of the damages,” Davis said. “I can say with a high degree of confidence that John is probably going to be experiencing some financial difficulties for a while, at least a couple of months, if not longer than that.”

According to the latest available data from the Insurance Research Council, about 1 in 5 drivers in Washington State were uninsured in 2019. State law requires drivers to carry liability insurance to cover $25,000 for injuries or death to another person.

Davis said the driver in this case did have the $25,000 minimum insurance, but it’s nowhere near enough to pay for all the necessary expenses — especially when considering the loss of life.

“I think most people would say that’s inadequate, right?”  Davis said. “$25,000 is almost a slap in the face.”

Car insurance companies do offer coverage for people in case they get hit by uninsured or underinsured motorists, but Davis said people often go lower on that coverage because they don’t think about getting hit by a car as a pedestrian.

“I always tell people that’s probably the most important type of coverage on any auto policy because most of these incidents are caused by irresponsible drivers who don’t have insurance,” Davis said.

In addition to the driver being underinsured, without criminal charges filed, John can’t access the state’s Crime Victims Compensation Program, which helps victims and their families deal with crime-related costs like medical and funeral expenses.

“But in our experience, the benefits are fairly limited from that fund,” Davis said. “It doesn’t have a lot of money to pay everyone 100% of their damages.”

On average, a funeral costs between $7,000 and $12,000, including viewing and burial, basic service fees, transporting remains to a funeral home, a casket, embalming, and other preparations. That doesn’t include the cost of a cemetery, monument, marker or miscellaneous expenses like flowers.

Davis said there are little to no other government programs providing financial assistance in these kinds of situations.

“Government programs are extremely limited and usually they’re not going to apply to most cases like this one,” Davis said.

Davis said that’s why, oftentimes, the last hope for financial help for victims and their families are crowdfunding resources like GoFundMe.

“Somebody could donate 20 bucks and if you get enough of those, it can have an enormous positive impact for somebody that’s really going through a really, really difficult time like John is,” Davis said.

John’s friends have created a GoFundMe page for him to help with his current financial situation. As of 6:30 p.m. Monday, they had raised $2,390.

While John said the money might help him to start piecing his life back together, it won’t bring Carollee back. More than anything, he said he wants the world to know the kind of person she was and to remember her for her kindness and compassion.

“Carollee touched so many lives … She was a vibrant, beautiful, intelligent woman,” Fisher said. “She just wanted this world to be a better place … I miss her so much.”

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