By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — Thousands of miles away and through the words of an interpreter, a widow pleaded for justice on Thursday.
In August, the woman’s husband, Youngkoo Kim, was hit while he crossed Highway 99 at night in Lynnwood. Kim, 62, and his wife were visiting the area from South Korea. He died at a Seattle hospital. His wife has returned home without her husband.
“I want the offender in prison for the rest of his life and to repent for what he did,” the woman said over a phone set up in court.
The driver, Michael Thao, 30, fled the scene of the Aug. 9 accident. He told authorities he didn’t stop because he had cocaine and marijuana in his car. He also said he panicked because of the trauma of hitting someone. Police don’t believe Thao was speeding.
He was arrested a few days later after a woman called police about a severely damaged vehicle outside Thao’s residence.
Thao pleaded guilty in February to fleeing the scene of a fatal accident. He faced up to 8½ years in prison. He has prior felony drug convictions and numerous misdemeanor-level driving convictions.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Michael Downes on Thursday agreed to give Thao an alternative sentence for drug addicts that combines prison time with community supervision and required chemical dependency treatment. Thao was sentenced to nearly 8½ years in prison. He’ll serve half that time in prison and the other half will be served in the community under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections. If he violates the conditions of supervision, he can be sent back to prison for the rest of his sentence.
If he hadn’t been given the alternative sentence, once he was released from prison he wouldn’t have been supervised by a community corrections officer, prosecutors said.
Downes explained that under the law he couldn’t hold Thao responsible for Kim’s death. He was being punished for his actions after the accident, the judge said.
“It’s probably very difficult for the family of the deceased to understand it,” Downes said.
The judge noted that Thao has been using drugs since he was 13 or 14, starting with marijuana.
“Mr. Thao is better off if he gets clean and the public will be better off if he gets clean,” Downes said.
Kim’s wife was heard crying over the phone.
“I understand the offender is struggling to survive but because of one person’s death our whole family is suffering,” she said.
The defendant apologized to Kim’s family.
He also asked the judge for help. Even more frightening than going to prison for the first time, is going back to drugs, Thao said.
“I’m tired of making poor choices because of my addiction,” he said. “This could be the opportunity to overcome my addiction and to prove to myself, my family and the court, I can change my life.”
Downes ordered that Thao begin treatment as soon as he arrives in prison and if he fails to make progress, he expects the state to terminate the special sentence.
“Mr. Thao what I’m telling you is you can’t go there and fake it,” Downes said. “This is highly likely the last chance you get like this.”
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.