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Originally published November 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 10, 2007 at 2:04 AM

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As tears flow, driver sentenced in worker's death

In a courtroom filled with sobbing and tears, a driver who killed a highway construction worker on Interstate 405 in Kirkland last summer...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

In a courtroom filled with sobbing and tears, a driver who killed a highway construction worker on Interstate 405 in Kirkland last summer turned to face the dead man's family.

But the family couldn't stand to see his face and asked the judge to tell Williams to turn around. So Kyle Keambirorio Williams, 33, faced the judge, sobbing, and said, "I'm sorry," as he wiped away tears with a tissue.

The exchange took place Friday at the King County Courthouse, where Williams was being sentenced for killing Kollin Nielson, 30, on June 22.

King County Superior Court Judge Harry McCarthy gave Williams 41 months in prison after he had pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide.

Representatives for Nielson and Williams described how multiple lives were destroyed by the death, which took place in a construction zone after Williams got drunk in a Kirkland bar and was driving home.

Nielson worked for Kiewit Construction, supervising the night shift on a repaving job.

Williams is a former Navy machinist's mate on an aircraft carrier who went on to earn a college degree and work as an Internet network engineer.

McCarthy described the sentence as "woefully inadequate," but he noted it was the maximum allowed under state sentencing guidelines.

Even David Allen, the attorney representing Williams, said his client had been despondent for months because "there was no way" to take back the death.

Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Amy Freedheim described Williams' actions as "incredibly selfish and irresponsible. The consequences of his action are catastrophic. The person he hit was a public servant."

Nielson was working behind traffic-barrier cones in the darkness early that morning, looking for a pavement marker, when Williams drove a 1999 Honda Passport at an estimated 65 mph through the barriers, according to court records. Williams struck Nielson and a second worker, who survived.

Nielson was thrown into another traffic lane and died at the scene.

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Williams told investigating officers he'd had three gin-and-tonics; a blood-alcohol test put his blood-alcohol level at 0.20 percent, more than two times the legal limit of .08 percent.

The effect of Nielson's death on the people involved was described, with Allen noting that Williams grew up in difficult circumstances in Philadelphia, and that his mother was murdered when he was 7, yet he went on to live an exemplary life before that June morning.

Members of Nielson's family described an equally exemplary life, of how he grew up on a farm near the Tri-Cities, served two years as a missionary in Ohio, graduated from college, became the devoted father of an infant son, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early 20s and then with cancer in his late 20s.

Yet Nielson overcame it all, remaining optimistic and following a laudable career in the construction industry.

Nielson's wife, Sara, addressed the court before the sentence was issued.

"On the night he died, Kollin called me about 11:30 on his cellphone," she said. "I asked him how his work was going, if he was cold. We didn't talk very long. He was busy.

"He said he loved me, and I said I loved him.

"That's the last time I talked to him.

"I don't know much about Mr. Williams," she said. "I do know that I don't hate him, but he should be held accountable for his actions."

She then looked at Williams.

"I want to say: I forgive you."

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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