A Spokane man who caused the death of his wife in a drunken driving crash this summer can spend the holidays with his kids, instead of behind bars.
After his dead wife’s parents requested leniency, Todd Sligar left Spokane County Superior Court on Thursday with an unusual three-year sentence that doesn’t start until after Christmas.
Judge Paul Bastine ordered the sentence after Sligar entered a guilty plea to vehicular homicide for the death of Caryle Nielsen-Sligar, 31.
The sentence resulted from appeals by her parents, George and Barbara Nielsen. They asked the court to give Sligar, who has no record of drunken driving, a chance to “begin the healing” needed since he smashed a car into a tree north of Spokane last June.
Sligar was intoxicated at the time, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 percent. The legal limit is 0.10 percent.
The couple’s two children, 13-year-old Michael and 11-year-old Tara Lynn Sligar, were injured in the accident.
Bastine agreed with Deputy Prosecutor Dianne Dougherty that a balance was needed between stern punishment and the need for rehabilitation.
Sligar was initially charged with vehicular homicide’s most serious form - death caused while under the influence. He could have been sentenced to more than five years in prison if convicted of that crime.
Instead, he pleaded guilty to the least serious kind of vehicular homicide - death caused by disregard to others.
Instead of serving three years in prison, Sligar will spend his first year in a work-release program at Geiger Corrections Center.
The next two years he can live in his Spokane residence while under home monitoring.
“This is an equitable sentence,” said defense attorney Bevan Maxey. “He’s already received the punishment of losing his wife.”
Before being sentenced, Sligar told Bastine “this is the saddest day of my life.”
Sligar also said he’s agreed to volunteer to serve as an anti-drunken-driving spokesman, a suggestion proposed by his father-in-law.
He thanked the judge for letting him start his sentence on Dec. 27 to spend time with his children.
“Because prosecutors were planning to use my daughter as a witness against me, I have not been able to talk to her (since the accident) until today, because of a court order,” Sligar said.
After the first year, it’s uncertain whether Sligar will have custody of his son and daughter. “They might live with me then; that’s open to negotiation,” he said.
Even though he’s seen three relatives killed by drunken drivers, George Nielsen said he supported helping Sligar remain in the Spokane area.
“What I’m more concerned with is working to change our drunken-driving laws,” Nielsen said. “We need what other countries have - a harsh sentence for anyone who is convicted the first time of drunken driving.”
Making the initial penalties for drunken driving tougher will get the message across faster, he said.
“Drunken drivers have taken the lives of my niece, my nephew and my daughter,” Nielsen said.
“Tougher laws would have changed things, and they might be here today.”