November 2, 1996 in City

Barstad Says He’s Changed His Life Since Fatal Crash ‘The Hardest Thing Is Knowing I’Ve Killed Two People’

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The spring evening when James Barstad killed two women by crashing his truck through a busy Spokane intersection was the day he finally got what he wanted.

For three years, the 30-year-old Barstad said he had tried to break free from drugs, drinking and the repeated excuses that always kept him from turning his life around.

Speaking in jail the day after being convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, Barstad said the May 25 crash left him with “changes so profound people don’t have any idea.”

He’s found personal faith and growth, mixed with heavy doses of pain and anguish.

“I know what people think. They’d like to see me hang (for killing two people),” Barstad said.

“But there’s nothing I can do. Even if I produce a sign of remorse and show it to people every day, it won’t matter. They won’t understand what I’m going through.”

Barstad is the first driver in Washington state convicted of firstdegree murder after a car crash. Prosecutors convinced a Spokane County Superior Court jury that he had met one of the conditions needed for first-degree murder - extreme indifference to human life.

Killed in the crash were 14-year-old Julie Allen and 26-year-old Karen Sederholm.

Barstad testified during his trial that he drank three pitchers of beer before the accident. Later that day, he argued with his girlfriend and left her house drunk and angry.

Barstad’s chances during his recent trial were battered when prosecutors showed jurors TV video taken at the scene of the crash. Dressed in cutoffs, sporting multi-colored hair and scowling at cameras, Barstad at that point appeared deranged, dangerous and defiant.

“People don’t know how it was for me, then,” he said. “I had an incredible, horrible thing just happen to me. They have no idea what my feelings were. They might see me laugh, but how do they know I wasn’t really scared, confused.”

Since the crash, Barstad said he’s turned to faith and prayer to keep his spirit intact.

Barstad said his problems with drugs and alcohol began while attending North Central High School. “I was into partying, that’s how it started.”

He moved to the Tri-Cities, taking a job in hotel management.

“I am a caring, generous person,” he said. His life started falling off the tracks the more he drank and used drugs, he said.

Within the past two years, his mother died. Then the woman with whom he’d had two children left him, taking the children. “She took off on Christmas Day,” he said.

By last spring, Barstad had a record in Montana for possession of methamphetamine, had quit his job and moved back to Spokane.

“I knew that I had to turn my life around. But I guess I was waiting for the push.

“Well, this was the big push,” he said, shaking his head.

“I wake up and it’s not easy. The hardest thing is knowing I’ve killed two people, and nothing I’ll do will ever make that change.” He hopes one day to ask forgiveness from the victims’ families. He doesn’t pretend they’ll welcome his offer.

“If I had lost my daughter in this kind of wreck, I’d want to kill the guy who did it, too,” he said.

Barstad will be sentenced later this year to at least 45 years in prison. He hopes to win a reversal of the murder convictions, then get a shorter sentence for two counts of vehicular homicide.

If he returns to society, he said he will take on the reformed sinner’s role. “I don’t want people to drive and drink, or do what I’ve done.

“I was the only one in that crash not wearing a seat belt, and I came out unscathed. There must have been a reason for that.

“I want to be an inspiration so others won’t drive and drink. I want to tell people: ‘Be very, very careful.”’

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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