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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington House Budget Chair Calls Wreck, DUI Arrest 'Error In Judgment'

Washington Legislature
Democratic state Rep. Timm Ormsby of Spokane was arrested for drunk driving last Saturday.

The chief budget writer in the Washington state House of Representatives says it’s up to Democratic leaders whether he keeps his chairmanship following a rollover crash and his arrest for drunk driving last Saturday.

In an interview Wednesday, Democratic state Rep. Timm Ormsby of Spokane apologized to his constituents and colleagues.

“[I] made a really bad choice on Saturday, succumbed to the pressure of the place, shouldn’t have,” Ormsby said. “[I] should have had my constituents at the forefront of my mind and working on that budget.”

The accident happened shortly after 5:30 p.m. as Orsmby, 58, was returning home from meeting a lobbyist at a bar where he said he consumed at least two beers. Earlier, Orsmby had been at the Capitol for a short meeting on the House Democratic budget which will be released publicly next week.

Right before the crash, Ormsby said his phone buzzed with a text message.

“It distracted my attention and noticed that it was from my wife and then boom,” Ormsby said. “It was violent and faster than I could track.”

Ormbsy’s 2018 Jeep Cherokee went off the road, hit a culvert and flipped over on its roof. The car came to a stop outside Sam Thomas’ house.

“I heard a big bang, a big sound,” Thomas said. “[I] came outside and I saw a car upside down and a man standing next to it.”

Credit Thurston County Sheriff's Office
Thurston County Sheriff's Office
Washington state Rep. Timm Ormbsy's 2018 Jeep Cherokee went off the road, hit a culvert and flipped over on its roof.

Thomas said the driver was on the phone, but let him know there was no one else in the vehicle. It wasn’t until he was later contacted by a reporter that Thomas learned the driver was a state lawmaker.

“If he made a mistake, then we all make mistakes,” Thomas said.

According to a Thurston County Sheriff’s Office report, Ormsby smelled of alcohol and admitted he’d been drinking.

Ormsby failed a field sobriety test and then registered .11 on a portable breath test. In Washington .08 constitutes driving under the influence. Ormsby was arrested and taken to jail where he registered .09 on a follow-up breath test. He later entered a not guilty plea to driving under the influence.

In addition to the beers at the bar, Ormsby said he had two beers at home before his late afternoon budget meeting. Ormsby said he doesn’t have a drinking problem and is normally strict about not mixing alcohol with work.

“That’s a really firm and hard rule for me and so it was a failure of [not] conforming to that and poor judgment,” Ormsby said.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said that Democratic leaders planned to discuss Ormsby’s future, but that no decisions had been made about whether he should lose his chairmanship or face other internal sanctions.

“We’ve had a few of these incidents over the history of this institution, not frequently, so there isn’t a policy related to that,” Sullivan said. “You can’t look back and see ‘OK what kind of reaction has been taken based upon previous incidents’ so I don’t know. That’s what we’re going to talk about.”

Ormsby was named chair of the House Appropriations Committee in 2016. He was first elected to the Legislature in 2003. A cement mason by trade, he has worked as a union president and represents Spokane’s 3rd legislative district.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."