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Mental hospital for driver accused of school DUI killing

- Confined while ‘they try to make her competent for trial’

By KELLY NIX

Published: August 28, 2009

ON THE one-year anniversary of the death of Pacific Grove resident Joel Woods, who was struck last September by a vehicle driven by a woman police say was under the influence of drugs, Woods’ friends are calling for justice.

The young father was picking up his son, Jacob, in front of Pacific Grove Middle School Sept. 2, 2008, when Deborah King allegedly ran him down in her BMW SUV. Though she was arrested and later charged with murder and gross vehicular manslaughter, King has yet to face a trial.

That’s because earlier this year, a Monterey County Superior Court deemed King incompetent to stand trial and committed her to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, where “they will try to make her competent to stand trial,” Monterey County Assistant District Attorney Berkley Brannon said Thursday.

But that doesn’t sit well with Summer Coe, a good friend of the Woods family, who believes King — with five previous DUI convictions on her record — should pay for her fatal error.

“I am outraged that she has yet to face any charges,” Coe said. “It seems that she kind of got away with playing the victim card, where someone else might have been held accountable.”

King was under the influence of prescription drugs when she struck Woods, 35, prosecutors contend. King’s public defender did not return a phone message left by The Pine Cone.

“I think it sends a bad message if she’s able to ruin somebody’s life and just slip into the cracks of an institution, and not serve jail time,” Coe said, “Or not even be tried for the crime.”

Woods, is survived by his wife, Adrianna, and two sons, Nathan and Jacob, the 12-year-old boy Woods was picking up at school when he was struck. Woods was a stay-at-home dad who had a DJ business.

While Coe said the family’s loss has been immeasurable, she and her husband, Brian, are also still reeling from the tragedy.

“It has severely affected us too,” said Coe, who has known the Woods family for eight years.

But Brian and Joel grew up together and had been friends for 25 years.

The two regularly mountain biked, rode motorcycles and barbecued together. Woods was supportive when Brian’s father died 10 years ago, Summer Coe said.

Meanwhile, Woods was permanently memorialized this month at Robert Down School with a bench engraved with his name. Friends and family raised money to purchase the bench, which was dedicated Aug. 15.

“Both of his children attended the [Robert Down] co-op so he was there for quite a few years,” Coe said. “After the children moved onto kindergarten, he would still work fundraising events and help out in anyway they asked.”

Since Jacob and Nathan no longer have a father, Coe said her husband, when he is able, spends time with them. The Coes also have two children.

In an interview last year, Adrianna told The Pine Cone Joel was “a great husband, caring and loving,” and that they were “soul mates.”

Adrianna and Joel befriended each other as freshmen at P.G. High School, began dating as seniors, graduated in 1991 and married in 1994, she said.

“He was the best dad I’ve ever known, and so passionate,” she said.

Lawsuits

Meanwhile, a wrongful death lawsuit filed March 2 by attorney Steve Brady on behalf of the Woods family against the City of Pacific Grove and the Pacific Grove Unified School District, is still going through the legal process.

The suit alleges the city and school “negligently located, designed, controlled and maintained the drop-off/pickup area in front of Pacific Grove Middle School” where Woods was killed.

“It’s a real tragedy,” Brady said Wednesday. “It’s one that could have and should have been avoided.”

In a Pine Cone article in January, Pacific Grove Union School District assistant superintendent Robin Blakely blamed the accident on King, not the school district.

Brady said the Woods family hopes the legal action will force the middle school to change the location of the pickup and drop-off area from Forest Avenue to a safer street.

“It is an easy fix,” he said. “It’s not like we have to move heaven and earth.”

Brady was scheduled to be in a Monterey County courtroom Friday involving a separate claim Jacob Woods has with King’s insurance company. Jacob witnessed the traumatic accident. “He was present and saw his father hit and killed,” Brady said. “It has been very, very difficult for this family.”