‘Hole in our lives.’ Mother who didn’t stop to help dying moped rider ordered to prison

·6 min read

In the minutes after Katie Summers hit and killed a 31-year-old moped rider, she didn’t stop to help him or call 911.

She made a U-turn and parked in a nearby lot, but didn’t approach police when they arrived.

Her inaction drove Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom to order the 31-year-old mother of two to prison for the high end of the state sentencing range — two years and two months.

“Ms. Summers on the 21st of August of 2018 you killed a man. You did this through the disregard of your obligations as a driver,” he said. “You didn’t do this intentionally. You did do this recklessly, but you killed him. And when you drove away, you probably knew he was dead.”

The sentence came after a morning of tearful pleas Thursday from Leo Birrueta’s family for a lengthy prison term and from Summers and her sister for leniency in front of a courtroom crowded with both families.

Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Clark asked for the maximum end of the Washington state sentencing range at two years and three months.

While Summers’ attorney, Brian Roach, asked for a parenting sentencing alternative which would allow her to stay with her two children or for a first-time offender waiver which would have a three month maximum.

More than three years after the collision, Summers pleaded guilty in January to vehicular homicide with disregard to safety and hit and run from a crash with injuries.

Kennewick police investigate the fatal moped crash at the intersection of Edison Street and Clearwater Avenue in 2018.
Kennewick police investigate the fatal moped crash at the intersection of Edison Street and Clearwater Avenue in 2018.

Video obtained by Kennewick police showed Summers drinking saké at a sushi restaurant before she drove that night, but her blood alcohol concentration at the time of the crash could not be proven because of a delay in drawing a blood sample, according to court documents filed by prosecutors.

The moped’s headlights were on, and Summers had a flashing yellow arrow to yield to oncoming traffic when she made a left turn in front of Birrueta’s moped.

Summers stopped a short distance away, and she paced back and forth outside her pickup. She got back in the truck and drove north on Edison, made a U-turn and parked behind the Super Supplements store in the Albertson’s parking lot near the intersection.

She later told Kennewick police that she stopped and called her boyfriend instead of 911 and didn’t go over to help the dying restaurant worker. She also was seen tossing a garbage bag in a nearby dumpster.

Officers retrieved the bag, which held empty containers for marijuana products along with a magazine and a business card, both with Summers’ name on them, court documents said.

When police found her about 11 minutes after the crash, she smelled of alcohol but no field sobriety test was done then, according to documents.

It was another four hours before a blood sample was taken to measure the alcohol and marijuana in her system.

The measure found that she had a blood-alcohol level of .06%, slightly under the legal limit.

While Summers’ drinking was not part of the charge, Ekstrom pointed out it as part of a set of circumstances surrounding the crash.

He noted that she did not call 911 and while she was on the scene when police arrived, she did not stop and talk with them.

“You valued his life less than ... your concern that your boyfriend would be angry at you regarding the condition of the interior of your truck,” Ekstrom said.

Alex Magallan, family member of victim Leo Birrueta, wipes away tears after making her emotional statement during the sentencing hearing for Katie Summers.
Alex Magallan, family member of victim Leo Birrueta, wipes away tears after making her emotional statement during the sentencing hearing for Katie Summers.

Grieving family

Birrueta’s family and friends described the father of a young daughter as a big-hearted man who would gladly give a stranger in need the shirt off their back.

His loss had left their family in shambles and his fiancée lost and his friends embittered.

“My life was destroyed on Aug. 21,” his fiancée Rachel Juarez said Thursday. “We don’t know how to move on because we have such a hole in our lives.”

Juarez last saw Birrueta alive as he left their home saying he would be right back. The next time she saw him it was during his funeral.

After dying at 31, he had lost the chance to be a husband and have more children, she said.

A roadside memorial is near where Leonel Birrueta, 31, of Kennewick, was killed on his moped at West Clearwater Avenue at Edison Street.
A roadside memorial is near where Leonel Birrueta, 31, of Kennewick, was killed on his moped at West Clearwater Avenue at Edison Street.

“He will always be my husband, my protector, my friend,” she said. “He was everything to me. He was my life.”

She described the past three and a half years as a living hell, and she often finds herself passing through the Clearwater Avenue and Edison Street intersection and wondering what his last thoughts are.

She admonished Summers, saying that she will get to eventually move on. And that she could have taken responsibility years ago.

Elizabeth Liston described herself as Birrueta’s best friend, and said she saw the scene that night hoping her friend wasn’t involved in the crash.

“I was supposed to be the person that married Leo and Rachel. I was ordained to be able to help people like Leo, that I adored, and Rachel who he adored,” she said. “And instead I had to deliver his eulogy.”

Mother of two

While Summers’ attorney said people on social media tried to paint her as a privileged, remorseless killer, she didn’t try to run away from the scene or shirk her responsibility.

Katie Summers wipes away tears as her sister speaks on her behalf during Thursday sentencing hearing in hit and run vehicular homicide of moped rider Leo Birrueta in August, 2018. She is seated next to her defense attorney Brian Roach in Benton County Superior Court.
Katie Summers wipes away tears as her sister speaks on her behalf during Thursday sentencing hearing in hit and run vehicular homicide of moped rider Leo Birrueta in August, 2018. She is seated next to her defense attorney Brian Roach in Benton County Superior Court.

At the time, Summers was fitness trainer and wellness coach with thousands of Instagram followers and had been featured in fitness magazines and websites after she lost more than 100 pounds.

Roach said while she did have alcohol during her hour and 45 minutes at the restaurant, police only noted she smelled somewhat like alcohol.

She also didn’t go far when she pulled away from the scene, and told people she was just moving her vehicle.

“She doesn’t even get out of the view of the actual north facing intersection,” Roach argued.

Summers’ sister Ashley Nelson said her sister is a good mother who fought to give birth to two children after medical problems. And the years of legal battles had left her and her partner financially and emotionally drained.

Nelson said that they grieve for Birrueta and his family.

“In the last few years, I have watched my sister completely dissolve under the grief of this tragic accident,” Nelson said. “She carries the pain and grief so deeply.”

Summers, who spoke while crying, apologized for the pain she caused, saying the accident had brought both of their families to their knees.

She said that she took the plea agreement so that the punishment would be directed toward her and not others.

“I want you to know that Leo’s life matters to me, and that left turn that night is the moment that my world stopped,” she said.

“The burden of this grief is one that I expect to carry every single moment forever,” she said.