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Published: Saturday, December 31, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Harsher penalty for vehicular homicide possible

A bill that will go before the Legislature would increase the sentence by several years.

Over the years, Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe has had to explain to grieving families the likely punishment awaiting those who have killed their love ones.
"I have met with hundreds of people who have had someone taken from them violently. It always is gut wrenching," he said. "It's difficult to explain standard ranges for murder and manslaughter, but when you try to explain it to someone whose kid was killed by a drunk driver that leads to absolute dismay. It is impossible to explain that. It just doesn't make any sense. They don't get it. I don't get it.
It's not that the sentencing range for vehicular homicide is difficult to calculate. The prosecutor's angst comes from the state-set length for prison terms that people can expect to get when they kill someone in a drunken-driving crash.
That could be changing.
A bill awaiting the 2012 Legislature proposes to toughen punishment for vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.
The standard sentence range for DUI-related vehicular homicide in Washington is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years in prison. House bill 2216 would raise the sentencing range to the same level as first-degree manslaughter, 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 years.
"Manslaughter is unintentionally killing somebody," Roe said. "I think it fits, and the range ought to be the same ... You shouldn't get 50 percent off because you only drove drunk and killed somebody."
Jan Stivers remembers the shock she felt when she learned about the state's sentencing range for vehicular homicide. It was after her daughter, Meghan Stivers, 26, was killed by a drunk driver in July near Marysville.
"The first thing that went through my mind is there is no justice for my daughter," the Lake Stevens woman said. "I really felt it was a slap in the face. I had no idea it was that lenient."
"It's almost like they condone it because we give such a small sentence," she said.
Sentencing for the man responsible is scheduled Jan. 5. Randy Sedy, 45, of Arlington, pleaded guilty. His blood-alcohol level was almost four times the legal limit. Sedy also has a 2005 drunken driving conviction.
Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, is a co-sponsor of the House bill. As he drives around his sprawling legislative district, he often is reminded of lives lost to drunk driving. Roadside signs and crosses remember the victims.
He predicts the legislation will pass, even during a session of heavy budget slashing.
"A couple of years in prison doesn't justify the wonderful lives taken away from us," Pearson said. "Think about the social cost of destroying a family."
The lawmaker said longer sentences could become a deterrent, causing people to think even more about the potential consequences of drinking and driving.
The bill also would add teeth to punishment for other kinds of vehicular homicide.
For instance, the sentencing range for vehicular homicide caused by reckless driving would more than double to a range of 4 to 5 1/2 years in prison.
The sentencing range for vehicular assault caused by alcohol or drug impaired drivers would increase from three to nine months in jail to six to 12 months.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » Lake StevensMarysvilleCrimeProsecutionHomicideAssault

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