Donnivan Whitcher told a federal judge Tuesday the explosion caused by a marijuana extraction method at his north Spokane apartment in January 2014 was an accident.
“I didn’t mean to hurt anybody,” Whitcher said, before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice sentenced him to five years in federal prison.
The explosion displaced at least one resident, and several others reported injuries shortly after the blast that scorched Whitcher’s unit in the Center Court Apartments, 7007 N. Nevada St. Whitcher pleaded guilty in November to manufacturing hash oil, a marijuana by-product made by leeching THC – the psychoactive element for the drug – from the plant using a chemical. Whitcher used butane and was smoking the substance from a bong when the butane ignited, causing an explosion. His 2-year-old daughter and girlfriend, also in the apartment, were uninjured.
But George Samuel, Whitcher’s next door neighbor, says he continues to suffer health problems as a result, including stress, anxiety and depression.
“I feel sorry for Donnivan,” Samuel, who served in the Army during the Korean War and attempted to extinguish the fire when he first saw the flames, said after the hearing. “This is emotional for me. He’s not the first to do this, and he won’t be the last.”
Earlier this year, the Spokane City Council created an ordinance that requires legal hash oil producers to seek inspection by the Spokane Fire Department. The state’s recreational marijuana laws require hash oil to be produced in a “closed loop” system, which keeps oxygen and open flames from igniting the flammable gasses that can be used to produce the oil.
Those regulations were written to avoid explosions like the one that occurred in Whitcher’s apartment, and the explosion that ripped open a car in the Garland neighborhood in August 2013 driven by Jacob Sayman. Sayman pleaded guilty to attempted assault and drug manufacturing charges earlier this year before a Spokane County Superior Court judge and received no jail time.
But Whitcher pleaded guilty to a federal charge that carries a mandatory prison sentence of five years. Whitcher also must pay close to $325,000 in restitution to the property owners and the Spokane Fire Department.
Rice, who is also presiding over the ongoing trial of three Stevens County marijuana growers who face multiple felonies, told Whitcher he’d give a stiffer sentence if he could.
“I don’t consider this an accident at all,” Rice said, adding, “I scoff at people who say drugs don’t hurt people.”
Several members of Whitcher’s family, including his now-wife who was present that evening, spoke on his behalf, wiping tears from their eyes as they said he was a good person who didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
“Donnivan made a mistake,” Kali Whitcher, Donnivan’s wife, said. “He knows that.”
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