ILWACO — The Washington State Patrol has completed its investigation into a July traffic collision that claimed the lives of two Peninsula women. Investigators found that one of the two drivers, Rhonda Wood, 58, of Long Beach, had traces of marijuana, alcohol and medications in her system. The report suggests that the combination of substances and medications was likely a contributing factor in the incident.
Wood and Linda Simmuka, 59, of Ocean Park, both died at the scene as a result of injuries they sustained when their vehicles collided head-on while traveling on SR 101 near Sandridge Road at around 2:10 p.m. on July 3.
Both women were wearing seat belts when the accident occurred. A teenage relative traveling with Simmuka sustained only minor injuries. Both cars were totaled.
Toxicology tests performed by the WSP State Toxicology Lab revealed that Simmuka had “nothing foreign in her system.” Wood had a blood alcohol level of 0.023, which is below the legal limit of 0.08. According to the website for “Be Responsible About Drinking,” a public safety education organization, a BAC between 0.02 and 0.03 typically causes “slight euphoria” and some loss of inhibitions, but does not cause physical impairment. Wood also had THC — the psychoactive component of marijuana — in her system. Wood’s THC level was 3.8, also below the legal limit of 5.0. Additionally, Wood also had a common anti-depressant and two types of antihistamines in her blood.
Taken alone, none of the medications would have impaired her ability to drive. However, the WSP report noted that alcohol can exacerbate certain medication side effects, including drowsiness, dizziness and impaired reaction times.
“Wood was ... operating her motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor and drugs. Due to Wood’s impairment, she failed to negotiate the curve and crossed the double yellow centerline and struck Simmuka along the northbound shoulder,” a collision investigator wrote in the report.
WSP Sgt. Bradford Moon was one of several police officers who responded to the accident. In a Nov. 1 phone interview, Moon said that when multiple substances are involved, they can sometimes interact with each other in unpredictable ways. When the level for each substance is below the legal threshold, it can be difficult to determines whether, or how they affect the driver. Moon declined to comment on any specific incident but said, generally speaking, individuals can exhibit signs of intoxication while still below legal limits.
“Multiple substances in somebody’s system can impair in different ways, especially in terms of someone’s age, size, and tolerance, but also in terms of what those substances are,” Moon said.
According to the report, the weather was “clear, dry and warm,” and neither woman appeared to be exceeding the 45 mph speed limit at the site of the collision. The report noted that Wood, who had recently gone grocery shoppping, “may have been eating as the collision occurred.”
Neither woman braked substantially before impact, but it appeared that after seeing Wood cross the centerline, Simmuka, who was traveling northbound in her Hyundai Elantra, “...steered to the right in an attempt to avoid colliding with Wood.”
Wood struck Simmuka’s vehicle on the front driver’s side fender. Wood’s Kia Spectra ended up backward in the middle of SR 101. Simmuka’s vehicle veered off of the road, and came to rest in the brush off the northbound shoulder. The impact crumpled both vehicles, forcing components of the steering columns and dashboards into the passenger compartments.
After the collision, motorists called 911, at about 2:15 p.m., reporting that neither woman had a pulse. Several local police and emergency response agencies arrived at the scene within about eight minutes.
In the WSP report, a witness, who was following Wood’s vehicle prior to the accident, said she saw Wood veer to the right and then swerve and cross the centerline to the left. The collision happened so quickly that while she heard the loud “bang,” she didn’t realize at first that there was a second car involved.
“The silver car was totaled in the middle of the road. I did not even notice the car in the bushes until a young woman came out,” the witness said.