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Driver pleads guilty in fatal hit-and-run

Even the judge shed tears today as family members expressed the grief left behind after a Canadian woman was hit and killed by a drunken driver in downtown Spokane last November.

The driver, 25-year-old Cameron B. Olsness, cried as he faced the family of 63-year-old Elaine Price-Cornell and accepted blame for consuming several drinks, running a red light, crashing into Price-Cornell in an intersection before fleeing from police on Nov. 20.

Olsness pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide as charged and received a sentence of three years in prison.

“I am without words to explain the pain and loss I have caused so many,” Olsness said. “I would do anything to give you back Elaine. Though I wish for forgiveness, I cannot ask it of you.”

Superior Court Judge Neal Rielly said he was brought to tears because Price-Cornell’s family said she lived by the advice that he tries to impart on those who come into his courtroom.

“I’ve been doing this a long time. I think your mother’s philosophy is so right – to find a way to forgive,” he said. “If you can’t get that out, that anger stays in there and it’s like a cancer. I’m just amazed by her.”

Victim advocate Lory Miller read statements from Price-Cornell’s grandson, son and daughter. She was visiting Spokane from Olds, Alberta, shopping for Christmas gifts when she tried to cross Browne Street at Spokane Falls Boulevard.

A previously convicted drunken driver, Olsness – who also had a pending DUI charge from Sept. 14 – had consumed at least a dozen drinks at two different bars before running the red light in a 1999 Chevrolet Suburban and striking Price-Cornell.

According to witnesses, Olsness stopped after hitting the woman, backed up and looked at Price-Cornell. He yelled expletives before driving away from the scene and abandoning the SUV several blocks away.

“The time Ms. Price-Cornell needed him the most, he fled the scene,” said attorney Stephen Haskell, who has filed a civil suit against the bars that served Olsness that night, Talotti’s 211 and Irv’s Bar.

The grandson, Charlie Reid, wrote about how he got the phone call at 3 a.m. about his grandmother.

“It was the most horrible news that I had ever had to deal with. When I saw my grandma Elaine, I was in shock,” Miller read from Reid’s letter. “She was swollen and bruised beyond recognition.”

Her son, Steven Gerth, wrote about the grief his family has endured.

“I picture over and over my mother lying on the side of the road … without anyone stopping to help. I just hope Mr. Olsness that you realize what you have done and how you have changed many lives for ever,” Gerth wrote.

Her daughter, Angeline Reid, wrote about how her mother sought to forgive people.

“Elaine was the most loving, forgiving … and smart woman I have ever known. I was blessed to have her as a mother,” Reid wrote. “She said there is good in everyone and everyone makes mistakes. Learn from it and do good. That is all I really ask of you.”

Rather than prison, Reid suggested that Rielly sentence Olsness to work with other people who have suffered traumatic injuries “so he can understand what we have to live with.”

Olsness didn’t disagree.

“I will go to prison, which I deserve,” he said. “But I can honor her life and memory by living an honorable life myself. Please know I am truly, truly sorry.”

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