SEATTLE -- A repeat drunk driver who plowed his pickup into a family in Seattle's Wedgewood neighborhood in March, killing two grandparents and badly hurting a mother and her newborn son, pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.
Appearing before a judge, the weight of his crimes finally appeared to have sunk in as Mark Mullan, 51, pleaded guilty to each charge. By the time the judge read the charge for mowing down 10-month-old Elias Schulte in the crosswalk, he was in tears.
Mullan faces a recommended term of 18 years in prison when he is sentenced in King County Superior Court next month.
Mullan, a journeyman electrician with five prior drunken driving arrests, had a blood-alcohol content about three times the legal limit when he hit the family as they crossed a street in the Wedgwood neighborhood in broad daylight March 25. He was on probation from a recent case, his license was suspended, and he was supposed to have installed an ignition interlock device in his truck.
New grandparents Judy and Dennis Schulte, retired teachers from Kokomo, Ind., who had recently moved to Seattle from Indiana to be close to their son, were killed. Their daughter-in-law, Karina Ulriksen-Schulte and her son, Elias, were critically injured. Ulriksen-Schulte suffered a broken pelvis and head injury, and her injuries caused a stroke that has limited her speech. Her husband, Dan Schulte, was at work and returned to a nightmare.
"It can change families forever," he said.
Dan Schulte said his wife is walking and talking more and is almost ready to come home from a rehabilitation center. She also sees their son almost every day.
Elias, who was 10 days old at the time, sustained skull fractures. He has had one major brain surgery and is due to have another when he turns 1, to relieve pressure caused by fluid on his brain. He is mostly acting like a normal baby, Schulte said, but there are concerns about his vision.
While he would have preferred to see Mullan sentenced to life in prison, Schulte told reporters after the court hearing that the plea would allow the family to focus on recovery as well as the legacy of his parents.
"While nothing can undo the damage to our family," Schulte said, with his sister by his side. "We're relieved he has decided to accept responsibility for his actions."
“It's been a long road already. It's a long road from here. Whatever makes the road ahead easier is better and this definitely makes it easier for us.”
The case prompted calls for tougher DUI laws. The family has sued the city, alleging it failed to monitor Mullan.
Schulte sat in the courtroom behind Mullan as the defendant looked down, frowning and sobbing briefly as he repeated "guilty" five times, including to a charge of violating the ignition interlock device law. Mullan dabbed his mouth with a tissue as he regained his composure.
Judge Ken Comstock read Mullan's statements about the offenses as described in the plea agreement. "While I was driving I hit four people who were legally crossing the street," the judge read before asking whether the statement was true.
"Yes, it is," Mullan responded.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg noted that the Legislature's decision to toughen vehicular homicide laws in 2012 provided for a longer prison term for Mullan, and he said keeping Mullan off the roads for 18 years was the best his office could do.
Some 150 people a year are killed by drunken drivers in Washington, and Satterberg credited Schulte for promoting the "ongoing cultural change we need in this state to make people think twice before they drink and drive." In July, Schulte joined Gov. Jay Inslee as he signed a law requiring that anyone suspected of a second impaired driving offense face mandatory arrest and have an interlock device installed on their vehicle within five days of being charged.
KING 5's Eric Wilkinson contributed to this report.