SEATTLE — With blue skies overhead and Seattle’s notorious drizzle nowhere in sight, Rebecca Rhodes West, in town to visit her best friend from high school, felt fortunate to be in the city that September day in 2015 — and she was eager to take advantage of it.
The night before, the two women and her friend’s daughter had gone to a Duran Duran concert. The next day, they headed for a sightseeing tour around the city. When the three of them arrived early to Ride the Ducks Seattle for their 11 a.m. tour, an employee told them they were in luck: A few seats were still open on Duck No. 6, set to depart at 10:30 a.m.
And so, they climbed aboard to join the earlier tour and changed their lives forever.
“We headed out and I remember it was a gorgeous day and the driver was telling us about all the different landmarks,” West, a married 47-year-old from Billings, Mont., said in a phone call on Wednesday. “As we crossed the bridge, he told us to look to the right because it’s a beautiful view. And then, I felt this sharp jerk and felt us veering to the left.”
In a split second, West heard the driver scream and “pure black” consumed her vision. Then, her body “just started pinballing, hitting anything and everything,” she said.
After that, West went blank. The next thing she remembers is looking into blue sky.
“I woke up on the ground,” she said. “I couldn’t move at all. I just laid there, crying, and I didn’t know if I was dead or alive. I only knew for sure when I heard people screaming and crying, and I could smell the vehicles and everything — I guess just the whole wreck, the absolute chaos around me.”
A King County jury on Monday awarded $4 million in damages to West for her physical and emotional injuries suffered after being ejected from the amphibious tour vehicle during the crash that killed five North Seattle College students and injured more than 60 people.
The verdict found both the vehicle’s manufacturer, Ride the Ducks International (RTDI) of Missouri, and its local operator, Ride the Ducks Seattle, jointly and separately liable for the crash. Jurors assigned 60% of the liability to RTDI, with the remaining 40% to the Seattle Ducks, while blaming both for the mechanical problems that led the Duck to lose control, cross the centerline and slam into an oncoming charter bus carrying the college students.
A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation previously had found that RTDI’s improper manufacture of the Duck vehicle with a defective axle, and the Seattle Ducks’ failure to replace it, caused the deadly crash.
West’s award, along with settlements of $1 million and $750,000 made to her friend Tami Matson and Matson’s daughter, Tiffani Haman, are the latest in a string of multimillion-dollar legal judgments and settlements in the wake of the deadly crash. Last month, the “captain” of the Duck that crashed received a $2 million settlement from RTDI. In April, a German au pair critically injured in the wreck received a $7 million settlement from RTDI and the Seattle Ducks firm, an independent licensee. In February, a King County jury awarded $123 million to victims and family members representing 40 people killed or injured in the crash.
West’s award and her friends’ settlements mark resolutions in what’s believed to the final lawsuit stemming from the crash.
Representatives for the Ducks companies did not respond to requests for comment.