Man could skip jail in teacher’s death

EVERETT — An Arlington man could avoid serving any time in prison for the 2011 crash that killed Granite Falls school teacher, Suzy Armstrong.

On Thursday, Matthew Boitano admitted he was responsible for the fatal wreck and pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide.

Boitano sped around another vehicle on Sept. 15, 2011, as he climbed a hill on Jordan Road, smashing into Armstrong’s car.

The collision sent Boitano’s Ford Explorer onto the hood and into the windshield of the smaller car.

Armstrong, 52, was driving home from Monte Cristo Elementary School, where she taught special education. She died Sept. 18, 2011, in a Seattle hospital without ever regaining consciousness.

Boitano faces up to 20 months in prison. He could be granted a first-time offender waiver. Under that scenario, he faces up to three months in jail, with the potential to avoid any time behind bars.

Boitano, 22, is eligible for the waiver because he doesn’t have any prior felony criminal history. Also, because of how the case was charged, his conviction isn’t considered a violent offense.

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Tobin Darrow filed the vehicular homicide charge under the theory that Boitano disregarded the safety of others, not that he was reckless. He is asking for a 15-month prison term for Boitano.

There was never evidence that Boitano was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, court papers said. Darrow also said he considered Boitano’s driving leading up to the crash. He made a single, dangerous maneuver — passing on a hill — which caused the fatal crash, Darrow said.

“I don’t have evidence that there was an extended sequence of reckless driving,” he said.

The Arlington man is expected to ask for the special waiver at sentencing, scheduled for June 17.

Boitano was in court with his father Thursday. Clearly nervous, he quietly answered the judge’s questions.

He was allowed to remain out of custody.

Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives spent months investigating the collision and recreating what happened.

Witnesses told investigators that Boitano had been tailgating another vehicle in the 35 mph zone. The witnesses reported that Boitano sped up to 60 mph to overtake the other vehicle.

Detectives believe Boitano crested the hill and instantly smashed into Armstrong. The Explorer wouldn’t have been in her view for more than two seconds before the crash. A person’s standard reaction time is at least 1½ seconds, Darrow wrote.

When deputies arrived on scene, Boitano was seated in his vehicle. He wasn’t hurt. Boitano asked if Armstrong was going to be OK. He told a deputy he had made a mistake.

Armstrong, a grandmother, worked in Granite Falls for five years. Much of her first four years at Granite Falls were split between Monte Cristo and Mountain Way elementary schools where she was part of a transitional classroom aimed at helping students with learning disabilities mainstream into regular classrooms.

Before that, she taught for nine years at the Northwest School for Hearing-Impaired Children in Seattle.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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