Family of man killed reaches deal with Skagit 911, county

The family of a man who was gunned down on Highway 20 eight years ago has been awarded a $2.3 million settlement from Skagit 911 and Skagit County.

The settlement was reached earlier this month, with Skagit 911 paying $2.1 million and Skagit County paying $200,000.

A civil trial was set to begin next week in the issue, but the parties reached a settlement in which Skagit 911 will not have to admit wrongdoing, said its attorney Shannon Ragonesi.

Kevin Coluccio and Paul Whelan of the Seattle firm Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Coluccio represented Gaye Diane Munich, William Munich’s widow.

“It’s been a long, tough journey for Gaye and her daughter Heidi and son Hans,” Whelan said. “It’s such a tragic thing to have your dad killed by something so stupid as a property dispute.”

In October 2005, William Munich called 911 after Marvin Ballsmider fired a rifle at him and missed. He hid in his garage while talking with the 911 operator. The operator told him that a deputy was on the way.

However, the operator coded the call as a priority two weapons offense instead of a priority one emergency call, court records show. The deputy dispatched to the scene did not turn on lights and sirens or pick up speed toward Munich’s location. Seven minutes later, Munich called back and said Ballsmider was chasing him down Highway 20.

A jury found Ballsmider guilty of second-degree murder in 2007.

He was sentenced to 28 years in prison, but died two years later at age 66 due to health problems.

Skagit 911’s attorneys argued that it was protected by the state’s public duty doctrine, which generally protects agencies from liability in such cases.

For a number of years there was even a question whether the plaintiffs could sue Skagit 911 and the county.

The state Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in November that the plaintiffs could sue Skagit 911 because an operator had told Munich that a deputy was on the way.

After the shooting, Skagit 911 conducted a review of all policies and procedures, said Bill King, director of the agency. He was not director when the shooting took place.

“We just want to put this behind us and move forward,” King said. “We have important work to do every day, and we need to focus on that.”