TACOMA, Wash. — A woman who caused a fatal crash in Tacoma last year pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Tuesday to vehicular homicide.
Win Gikonyo, 26, was suffering from hallucinations when she crashed her new Hyundai Elantra into 60-year-old Marianne Burton’s Toyota Prius, defense attorney Michael Stewart told the court.
“She was hearing voices shouting commands in her ear,” Stewart said. “... She felt that she could communicate with the traffic lights.”
Gikonyo wrote in a declaration filed with the court that she understands her plea means the court could hospitalize her indefinitely if she’s found to be a substantial danger to herself or others. She also understands that if the court finds she is not a substantial danger, it could put conditions on her release — including prohibiting her from driving.
A report filed by a psychologist at Western State Hospital this month diagnosed Gikonyo with “unspecified schizophrenia spectrum or other psychotic disorder” and found her to be a low risk to re-offend or exhibit dangerous behavior.
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Blood tests showed Gikonyo wasn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol when she drove more than 100 miles per hour, tried to pass two cars, then hit Burton’s car April 18, 2018 near 84th Street and McKinley Avenue.
Burton died at the scene.
Her family was not happy with the resolution of the case.
Her daughter, Amber Falaschi, told the court Tuesday that she doesn’t believe Gikonyo was insane at the time of the wreck. She argued that Gikonyo had held a job and bought a car — “things that insane people don’t generally do.”
“She stole my mother’s life from everyone who knew her,” Falaschi said.
Burton’s son, James Burton, told the court by phone that his mother had been less than two years from retirement when she died.
“My mother was robbed of her hard-earned retirement and her life,” he said.
Burton cleaned houses a few days a week and had been working at a pizza shop, according to News Tribune archives.
Her family said Burton was beloved by her cleaning clients and pizza shop coworkers, to whom she was a sort of store mom.
She was making a pizza delivery at the time of the crash.
Stewart read a letter that Gikonyo wrote in which she apologized to Burton’s family and said she hoped they could forgive her one day.
“I just want to tell you how sorry I am,” it read in part. “... Please know it was an accident.”
He said Gikonyo had moved out of her mother’s home before the wreck and isolated herself. Her mother didn’t know where she was for several months.
Charging papers said Gikonyo started rolling in the street as officers tried to speak with her after the wreck, and that at various points she hissed, spat and pretended to be dead.
“She was suffering from hallucinations and is not legally responsible for her actions at the time,” Stewart said of the crash.
She underwent treatment at Western State and is responding very well to medication now, he said.
Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson acknowledged that Tuesday was tough for Burton’s family.
“I know that this is not cathartic, that this is unsatisfying,” he told them. “... to lose a parent is terrible.”
When it comes to convicting someone of a crime, Cuthbertson told the family, a judge has to look at the act and the mental state of a defendant.
“You have to have both,” he said. “This is a classic case of when that comes into play.”
He noted that Gikonyo doesn’t have any criminal history.
The judge also said that she has prior hospitalizations for mental health treatment and for some reason discontinued her medication in the past.
“I’m concerned about her going off the medication, because this can’t happen again,” Cuthbertson said.
He ordered her held without bail pending a hearing in two weeks to discuss what mental health treatment Gikonyo will get going forward.
For more on this story, visit The News Tribune.