The family of a Western freshman who was seriously injured in a hit-and-run this weekend is offering a $1,000 reward to the person who can identify the driver.
As of Tuesday night, Jan. 22, Mackenzie O’Brien, 18, was home in Edmonds, Wash. and in stable condition after receiving surgery on her arm, which was broken in a hit-and-run Friday night.
A vehicle traveling about 25-35 mph with no lights on hit O’Brien and friend Justine Phillipson, 19, around 11 p.m. as they were walking to a party near the corner of Otis and Abbott Streets behind Samish way on Friday, Jan. 18, according to witnesses and a Bellingham Police press release.
Police are still trying to locate the driver of the vehicle that hit O’Brien and one other victim. Anyone with information about the crash or the driver of the vehicle should contact Bellingham Police Traffic Officer Henry Ortega immediately at (360) 778-8628. For after hours tips, call 911.
Western junior Grace Schrater, 20, said she witnessed the accident from the porch of the house party O’Brien and her friends were headed to. She and others witnessed a vehicle without its lights on turn down Otis and head toward a group of people in the street.
“We all thought we saw something different,” Schrater said. “We heard this crashing noise and people screaming and flocking all over the place.”
Many students witnessed the accident from the porch of the house and from the street. Some described the vehicle, which drove away from the scene, as a small, grey, boxy Volvo or Honda; others said it looked like a Nissan Sentra or a longer, silver Subaru.
Schrater and other witnesses ran over to the group and found Phillipson lying on the ground, her leg injured. O’Brien was standing up and leaning against a car, but screaming, her arm bent the wrong way.
“[O’Brien] was wearing a down jacket,” Schrater said. “There was a hole ripped in her jacket, but we couldn’t see her arm. There were feathers everywhere.”
The accident happened almost directly in front of the house party O’Brien and her friends were walking to. Many students who were drinking underage fled the scene before police arrived for fear of getting in trouble.
"Our traffic officers spent I-don’t-know-how-many hours trying to locate people who were there," said Mark Young, Bellingham Police spokesman. "All that effort could be used in tracking down the suspect as opposed to tracking down the witnesses who have the information."
Officers are generally not concerned with minor crimes when they respond to serious crimes such as the hit-and-run, Young said.
"Our focus is on the emergency: we are always going to address the health issue of the victim first and foremost," Young said. "The quickest way to find the suspect is to have people hang around and tell us what they know. We are not concerned with any minor infractions they may have been involved in at that point."
Phillipson and O’Brien were taken to St. Joseph hospital. Phillipson had some injuries but was released that night.
O’Brien’s injuries were more serious: her bone broke through the skin of her right arm and poked into her side, hitting an artery, and she had to have stitches for a cut on her face.
Mackenzie’s father, David O’Brien, drove to Bellingham from Edmonds with his sister as soon as he heard what had happened.
“We walk into the emergency room and see Mackenzie with an IV all hooked up, face all bloody, hair all bloody, neck brace on and stitches on her face already,” he said. “It was very dramatic seeing her like that.”
The doctors decided O’Brien needed to be rushed to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for surgery. Because of the heavy fog, an ambulance from Marysville, Wash. had to transport the young woman instead of an emergency helicopter.
O’Brien received surgery Saturday morning and doctors were able to repair her artery and reset her bones. She could have permanent nerve damage in her hand and will need to take a quarter off to recover, her father said.
“She doesn’t have much feeling in her lower arm,” O’Brien said. “She can’t control a couple of fingers, and she can’t move her wrist at all.”
For now, Mackenzie is doing OK and she is in good spirits, but she’s sad she has to take the quarter off, her father said.
“She’s right-handed, so she can’t write, can’t type, and her arm is in a sling,” he said.
This week was tough for the O’Brien family: Mackenzie’s mother Sandy was taken to the hospital on Wednesday, Jan. 16. She was a patient at Virginia Mason when Mackenzie was transported to and treated at Harborview Medical Center, several blocks away.
“My wife is supposed to be home today, so hopefully I can get both of the women in my life back and healthy,” O’Brien said Wednesday, Jan. 23.
Again, anyone with information about the crash or the driver of the vehicle should contact Bellingham Police Traffic Officer Henry Ortega immediately at (360) 778-8628. For after hours tips, call 911.
Editor's note: Updated at 12:57 a.m. Jan. 23 to reflect most current information.