EVERETT — They should be simple questions: How many kids do you have? What are their ages?
After Nov. 12, 2015, Corby Whiddon didn’t know how to answer.
“Do I have four? Do I have three? Will Madi always be 17?”
His daughter, his firstborn, Madison Whiddon, was killed in a car crash on her way home from Monroe. She was riding with her close friend, Anthony Box. Two other friends and her 14-year-old sister were in the back seat. Box, then 18, passed out at the wheel.
At trial, jurors were told Box and the girls had been huffing computer cleaner in the car. His car veered off U.S. 2, launched into the air and tumbled end over end into a gully. Madison, the front seat passenger, was ejected. She died instantly upon hitting the ground. The three other girls were injured, including Madison’s sister.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Joseph Wilson on Thursday sentenced Box to 14 years in prison.
Defense attorney Gabriel Rothstein argued for leniency, asking for half that time. His client had just turned 18 three weeks before the crash. He didn’t appreciate the risk and consequences of his actions. His youth made him impetuous. His young life had been chaotic.
“He is not an unfeeling monster,” Rothstein said. “He cared for Madison. He misses her.”
Box, 19, plans to appeal his conviction. Rothstein advised him not to speak Thursday.
Box had testified that he didn’t intentionally huff the computer cleaner while driving. He claimed Madison was spraying it in the car. He couldn’t explain why he hadn’t passed out when he was directly inhaling the cleaner earlier in the night but was so affected by secondary fumes in the car.
Wilson said the defendant’s story didn’t add up. The judge also said he is not sure if Box knows how to accept responsibility. To survive a childhood marked by abuse, poverty and violence, the teen has learned it’s better to deflect, never take blame.
“Anthony Box never had a chance. I’m aware of that,” Wilson said.
Madison and Box had only been friends for about six months. She saw where he came from and what he was up against. Madi wanted to save her friend, the girl’s mom, Heather Lueken, said after Thursday’s hearing.
Her daughter, Lueken said, would want them to forgive Box.
“Her heart was soft, vulnerable and precious,” Corby Whiddon told the judge, adding that his daughter aspired to be a nurse.
Whiddon recalled the day his daughter was born. He holds onto the memory of the nurses telling him Madi’s color, pulse and breathing were perfect, “off the charts.”
“She was off the charts her whole life,” Whiddon said.
Losing her has hollowed out parts of their lives. Their traditional Christmas Eve dinner of pizza and milkshakes has lost its flavor. The first Christmas after her death, her stocking hung empty. They put it up again last year but filled it with presents for her younger siblings. They visit her garden to feel close to her.
Her grandfather Brian Griffin said it’s hard to forgive. Maybe the forgiveness would come easier if he heard an apology, saw some remorse.
Wilson, the judge, spent most of the time on the bench speaking to Madi’s family. He shared his own story. He comes from a family of 10 siblings, Wilson said. The judge was 10 when his oldest brother was killed in a crash. His parents had lost their youngest not long before that.
Wilson understands the ripples that grief causes in a family. It can be hard to see past the pain. The grief can embed itself in everything that comes later.
“What you do with it matters, not just the fact of it,” he said. “What you do with it matters.”
Forgiveness has nothing to do with the defendant, the judge said. “It has everything to do with your ability to let go here.
“It’s a tall order.”
Madison was a good person. “Hold on to that,” Wilson said. “You deserve that.”
And when people ask, count Madison.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.