A woman who killed two of her friends in a drunken driving crash in 2004 and now heads a nonprofit to help inmates avoid going back to prison has been arrested for felony driving under the influence, KIRO Radio has learned.
Dawn H. Vrentas, 31, of Edmonds, was ordered held on $750,000 bail at a hearing in King County District Court Monday.
According to court documents, Vrentas was pulled over by a Washington State Patrol trooper for speeding on Interstate 5 near 145th street at 1:17 a.m. Saturday. The trooper detected a “strong odor” of intoxicants and a breathalyzer test determined her blood alcohol level was .14. The legal limit is .08.
A post on Vrentas’ Facebook page suggests that she was at the Capitol Hill Block Party prior to her arrest.
“Let the fun begin,” the post read.
According to prosecutors, her criminal record includes a DUI conviction in Spokane County in 2000 and two convictions for vehicular homicide from an incident in Pend Oreille County.
On August 2, 2003, Vrentas, whose maiden name is Dawn Wiltzius, was drunk when she drove her vehicle off Highway 211 near Davis Lake on the way home from a family party, according to prosecutors. The car landed in a pond and her two passengers – 20-year-old Kyle J. Hutchinson, of Mead, Wash., and 21-year-old Walter F. Corman, of Spokane – drowned.
According to court documents, her blood alcohol level at the time of the accident was .16.
Vrentas had been let out on bail prior to trial, but was rearrested after an investigation found that she violated the conditions of her release by drinking at a party, according to Pend Oreille County Prosecutor Thomas A. Metzger.
Despite her previous arrest for DUI, Vrentas was sentenced to 5 and-a-half years in prison; the low-end of the standard range at the time. She was 22 years old.
“There was scarcely a dry eye in the packed courtroom by the time Superior Court Judge Al Nielson sentenced Dawn H. Wiltzius, a recent Mount Spokane High School honor student who had just finished her junior year as a University of Washington biology major,” read an article published in the Spokesman-Review at the time. “Some relatives of the victims … wept for Wiltzius even though they felt betrayed that she continued to drink and party while awaiting trial.”
According to the article, Walter Corman’s mother told Vrentas that she owed the world “a life well lived” for the two lives she cut short.
Vrentas was incarcerated at the Washington Correctional Center for Women until her release in September 2007, according to the Department of Corrections. She completed her community supervision in July 2009 and began work as a math tutor with the Post-Prison Education Program, an organization that aims to “dramatically reduce recidivism by harnessing the power of education and meeting the legitimate needs of former prisoners.”
Ari Kohn, president of the organization, said he knew about Vrentas’ past when he hired her.
“And, frankly, I didn’t give a damn,” Kohn told KIRO Radio at his Central Building office in downtown Seattle Monday afternoon.
“She’s smarter than hell,” he said. “The prisoners love working with her.”
Sixth months ago, at the age of 66, Kohn said he made a decision to step back and allow Vrentas to lead the program. She was promoted to managing director.
Kohn hired criminal defense attorney Kimberly Gordon to represent Vrentas and said he emailed King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg on Vrentas’ behalf after hearing about her arrest.
“I care an awful lot about her,” he said.
Kohn was among those in a courtroom at the King County Jail Monday when Vrentas made her first appearance.
Gordon argued for Vrentas to be released on $300,000 bail, lower than the prosecution’s request of $1 million, given her “strong family support” and ties to the community. Vrentas is employed by the City of Edmonds and is attending the University of Washington for her master’s degree in social work, Gordon said.
Regardless, Judge Arthur R. Chapman cited her past convictions in setting a high bail.
“With this kind of history, the court has to take very seriously the risk to the community,” he said. “There’s very little in the court’s view that could justify these allegations.”
Gordon called her client’s choice to get behind the wheel Saturday a “horribly bad decision,” but said it was fueled by a recent split from her husband and domestic violence.
“As far as I’m concerned that was the trigger and as far as I’m concerned her husband is a piece of (expletive) – and you can put that on the air,” he said.
Vrentas bonded out of jail Monday evening. The King County Prosecutor’s Office said charges could be filed Tuesday.