Declaring that the justice system had failed to stop a drunken driver from killing five people, a Spokane judge handed down the stiffest sentence for vehicular homicide in Washington state history Thursday.
Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor gave Spokane resident Bradford Erickson the maximum term possible - 25 years in prison - for killing two of his passengers and injuring another in a two-vehicle crash last fall.
Edith Hansen, 20, and her sister, Barbara D. Perry, 31, were killed. Perry’s common-law husband, Sidney Hansen, 31, survived with a broken neck.
Relatives of the dead women, along with relatives of victims killed in a 1983 crash caused by Erickson, nodded their heads while listening to O’Connor read the sentence.
“I was holding my breath because I thought he was going to get a slap on the wrist,” said Georgann Dahlen, whose husband, David, was killed in the 1983 headon collision with Erickson’s car.
“I wish he’d get more,” said her daughter, Paulette Dahlen-Adams, who said she has had to undergo alcohol treatment herself following her father’s death.
Until now, the toughest Washington prison term for vehicular homicide had been 10 years.
O’Connor said that despite repeated treatment programs and a prison term for the 1983 accident, the 37-year-old Erickson cannot break a pattern of drinking and killing people on the road.
The judge rejected a proposed 15-year prison term which prosecutors had negotiated with Erickson’s defense attorney.
That lesser sentence, which still would have been the state’s harshest ever for the charge, was not enough to protect the community from Erickson, O’Connor ruled.
“He has not only harmed himself, but he harms the community’s well-being,” she said.
O’Connor said the record of Erickson’s encounters with the law portray a man seemingly addicted to reckless, deadly behavior. The two fatal accidents and subsequent disregard for treatment demonstrate dangerously weak judgment and inability to register the consequences of substance abuse.
In both crashes, Erickson’s blood-alcohol level far exceeded the legal limit for drunkenness. Witnesses said he was weaving and passing other cars before the crashes occurred.
Both times, he drove his car into other vehicles at more than 50 mph.
In last September’s crash, Erickson slammed his mother’s Chrysler LeBaron into the back of a cement truck parked on Trent Avenue.
Before the sentence was read, relatives of Hansen and Perry told the court Erickson could not be trusted.
“This is the last thing I have to remember my daughter-in-law by,” said June Hansen, holding Edith Hansen’s death certificate toward Erickson.
The 1983 crash north of Spokane on U.S. Highway 395 killed Douglas Jones and Richard Zigler, as well as David Dahlen.
For Dahlen’s death, Erickson was sentenced to 10 years - the then-maximum for a single negligent homicide.
Deputy Prosecutor Dianne Dougherty told O’Connor that it’s unclear - 13 years later - why Erickson in 1983 was charged with causing only one of three deaths.
Erickson served less than three years for that crime. After release, he repeatedly violated the terms of his parole, failing to complete treatment programs and being arrested for driving without a license.
In 1993 and 1994, Erickson was arrested for DUI in Grant County and Alaska, prosecutors said.
Before being sentenced, Erickson, wearing a white shirt and dark vest, told O’Connor only: “I am truly sorry for what I’ve done.”
Erickson’s attorney, Julie Twyford, argued for the 15-year sentence with doctors’ statements asserting Erickson had suffered head injuries in last fall’s accident and would likely never drive again.
Afterward, Twyford said she was “surprised” by the sentence.
Under good-behavior guidelines, Erickson could be released after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
To hammer Erickson with an exceptional sentence, the judge was required by law to lay out “substantial and compelling” reasons.
Among those reasons, she said, was his repeated failure to change behavior despite thousands of hours of state correctional treatment and counseling.
O’Connor said she worried that if she had approved the 15-year sentence, Erickson could drink and drive again.
“The court cannot predict the future,” she said. “But all of us have to be judged on what we’ve done, not on what we might say or do in the future.”
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