PORTLAND, Ore. — Five-year-old Olivia knows she lost someone she loved, although she doesn’t understand why. Her mother, Amanda Palin, was hit and killed by a suspected drunk driver last year.
"She’ll remember what she looked like, but I don’t know if she’ll ever have a real memory of her," said the girl’s father, John Ott.
It’s been difficult to explain to a child what death means, Ott said. Even he is having a tough time understanding why the driver who hit and killed Olivia's mom is facing a single count of Driving While Under the Influence of Intoxicants or DUII — a misdemeanor.
"She might have to pay a fine — if they can collect it. She might have to go to some classes — if they can make her," said Ott. "She’s going to walk."
Ott feels Marion County prosecutors should bring additional charges, like reckless driving, criminally negligent homicide or assault, to reflect the loss of life.
"She deserves to be recognized for who she was," Ott said of Palin, the mother of his child.
The deadly crash happened around 10 p.m. July 7 at Northeast Commercial and Division Street in Salem.
According to police reports provided to KGW by Palin’s family, the suspected drunk driver told investigators she’d been stopped at the traffic signal. When the light turned green, she drove through the intersection, then saw her windshield smash and heard a loud noise.
Medics rushed the injured pedestrian to the Salem Hospital with life-threatening injuries, before airlifting her to OHSU. Palin, 35, died nearly one week later at the Portland hospital.
"We had to let her go. And I will never forget that moment," Ott said.
According to police reports, the Oregon state crime lab determined nearly two hours after the crash that the driver had a blood alcohol level of .16, more than double the legal limit in Oregon.
Investigators reported they found an empty bottle of Smirnoff vodka in the driver's rental car, along with empty box wine bottles and drug paraphernalia, according to police reports.
Blood tests from the crime lab showed the driver had methamphetamine and marijuana in her system.
Kimberly Anne Gabriel, 44, of Oklahoma was arraigned on one count of DUII in Marion County Circuit Court in February.
Gabriel’s defense lawyer, Laura Schifano of Salem, declined to comment.
In the days and weeks following the crash, Gabriel posted numerous videos on social media — including a TikTok video where she described details surrounding the crash and the hardship the accident caused her.
"I just couldn’t believe this was happening. And I was fine. I wasn’t messed up or anything," said Gabriel in a TikTok video posted October 13, 2021.
Gabriel also railed against her employer on social media. The Oklahoma woman was in Oregon at the time of the crash working as a federal contractor assisting with COVID-19 response.
"I was on contract with FEMA, federal emergency management," she said in a July 28 TikTok video. "They haven’t done s***. Haven’t said. Haven’t called. Haven’t done anything. My agency did — sure. The people that contracted me, but did FEMA? Hell no! Y’all need to do better because I’m innocent."
The victim’s friends said the videos posted on social media are like a slap in the face.
"No remorse. No nothing," said Loretta McClain, a friend of Palin. "If I would have done something like that, I would have been calling that family or writing them, letting them know how sorry I was."
Additionally, Palin’s friends and family complain, Gabriel has a history of traffic infractions including a previous DUII conviction in Texas in 2002.
"There’s assault. There’s careless driving. There’s negligence. There are so many other charges they can charge her with but they’re not," said McClain.
The police reports suggest that at the time of the crash, Palin was in the crosswalk but facing a "Don’t Walk" signal. Legal experts said the illegal crossing makes things tricky for prosecutors.
Proving a driver is drunk is one thing, but for other charges such as reckless driving, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver’s impairment caused or contributed to the accident and death. In other words, would the accident likely have occurred even if the driver was completely sober?
Adding to an already complex situation, police reports indicate several witnesses provided conflicting reports that Palin may have been drinking and she was talking about suicide just before the crash — a notion her friends vehemently deny.
"Amanda didn’t have a death wish. The last time I saw Amanda, she was full of life. She was so happy," said McClain, Palin’s friend.
"She’s never, ever even thought about it as far as I know," Ott added.
The Marion County District Attorney’s Office, which is handling the case, declined to discuss details until the case is closed. "As this is an open criminal prosecution, we are unable to provide any information," wrote Drew Taylor, Deputy District Attorney in an email to KGW.
Palin’s family and friends said they haven’t received a clear explanation why this tragedy — that robbed a young girl of her mother — resulted in a simple misdemeanor charge of DUII.
A plea hearing in the case is scheduled for March 25.
"It’s just not fair," said Ott. "It’s not fair to Amanda. It’s not fair to her daughter."