EVERETT — A Marysville driver who pleaded guilty to killing two people, including a young cyclist and a sleeping 97-year-old woman, was sentenced Wednesday to about 22 years in prison.
Darwin Caldwell, 43, was driving a 1971 Chevrolet Impala in Marysville on Aug. 29, 2020. Around 2 a.m., a police officer reportedly saw him doing donuts in an intersection. Caldwell sped off and crashed into the bedroom of a duplex, according to charging papers.
The Impala hit the bed of Helen Reeder, 97, killing her. He hit Sudin Self-Johnson, 25, who was riding a bike outside. Self-Johnson died days later at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
Caldwell pleaded guilty on Feb. 10 to two counts of vehicular homicide.
A crowd of more than 20 people — loved ones of both the victims and the defendant — showed up to a sentencing hearing Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Caldwell bowed his head into his palms as family members of the victims read letters to the judge. Tension was high during the two-hour sentencing, and several times the judge warned family he might have to hold them in contempt of court.
Reeder’s daughter, Wanda Lee, said she lived with her mother when she was killed. The crash sounded like an explosion. The daughter said she has kept reliving the night of the crash in her mind.
“I spent some terrifying moments feeling very alone in my front yard,” Lee told the courtroom, “with you and your (expletive) car completely inside my mom’s bedroom … the minutes just dragged while I waited. I just waited desperately for the police to arrive.”
The daughter said she has felt stuck in the last stage of grief, struggling to “find meaning.”
“I woke up this morning, and my first thoughts were: ‘My Momma,’” Lee told the courtroom, “and what a sweet, kind lady she was and how much I really miss her.”
Savannah Stanton, 13, also addressed the courtroom. Self-Johnson was her cousin, but she thought of him as a brother, she said.
“I looked up to him more than anything. I thought he was such an amazing and wonderful human being,” Stanton said. “We did so much to together … we played at the pool in the summer, we went for snacks for sleepovers. These are the last things that I have of him.”
Defense attorney Laura Robinett said Caldwell did not intend to hurt anyone on the night of the crash and has demonstrated remorse.
“Immediately following the accident, Darwin attempted to render aid to Mr. Self-Johnson and tried desperately to locate Ms. Reeder,” Robinett told the courtroom. “He stayed on the scene and readily identified himself as the driver to responding officers.”
The defendant told his attorney he wishes he could trade places with the victims and that he “would gladly die if it meant that they could live,” she said.
Darryce Caldwell, one of the defendant’s children, addressed the courtroom. She said her father was her best friend.
“Everyone matters,” the daughter said. “… You see he matters to all the people in this courtroom who came to support him. He’s amazing. He’s the life of the room. … I’m going to miss being able to call my dad. ‘Dad, can you fix my tire? Can you do this?’”
Under state guidelines, Caldwell faced a prison sentence of 17½ to 23⅓ years. Deputy prosecutor Tobin Darrow and the defense agreed to propose about 21 years. Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss went a little further, handing down a term of 22 years and one month.
He noted the crash was not an accident. It was reckless driving and an intentional act.
However, Weiss told the courtroom: “The way it’s presented to me is he tried to assist these people. If that’s true, then he must have some goodness in his heart.”
Weiss also pointed to Caldwell’s traumatic upbringing when he announced his sentence.
“That doesn’t excuse his behavior,” Weiss said.
The defendant wept Wednesday as he apologized to the family members of the victims.
“I understand sorry does not bring them back,” Caldwell said. “But I hope it helps ease the pain I’ve caused. Hopefully one day the families will find peace.”
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; email@example.com; Twitter: @reporterellen.
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