A 25-year-old man will spend 10 1/2 years behind bars for killing 49-year-old Lauri McNamara in a 2020 drunken-driving crash near Nine Mile Falls.
Spokane County Superior Court Judge Annette Plese handed down the sentence to Jackson Neal Friday after several of McNamara’s loved ones provided tearful impact statements. A jury in August found Neal guilty of vehicular homicide.
Plese called the crash, which was captured on video, one of the worst crashes she’s seen in her 34-year career. Plese said Neal was traveling 100 mph when he crashed into McNamara, causing her vehicle to burst into flames. She died at a hospital later that night.
Plese said the high-speed rear-end crash was not an accident.
“You made the choice to drink and get behind the wheel,” she told Neal.
Ray McNamara, Lauri McNamara’s husband, echoed Plese’s comments.
“This was not an accident,” he said. “You killed my wife of 30 years.”
Lauri McNamara was driving behind her husband the night of Aug. 17, 2020, when Neal struck her, according to a Spokane County Sheriff’s Office news release at the time. Flames engulfed Lauri McNamara’s car on West Rutter Parkway, west of North Indian Trail Road.
Ray McNamara told deputies he noticed a “ball of flames” erupt behind him and pulled over to help.
Neal, who sustained minor injuries, was sitting off the road when deputies arrived. He was crying and asking, “Is she OK?” the release said.
Neal’s blood alcohol content was 0.207, more than twice the legal limit.
Plese said Neal drank all day, drove home and then drove again before the crash occurred. She said Neal’s previous DUI, which was amended to reckless driving, should have convinced him to make changes.
Neal, who wore yellow Spokane County inmate clothing, fought back tears while apologizing to Lauri McNamara’s friends and family, admitting that his “careless actions” brought tragedy to everyone.
“The value of human life is not lost on me through any of this,” he said.
He said he is not a violent person and, like his parents, asked Plese to consider a lenient sentence.
“I cannot undue August 17, 2020,” Neal said. “I wish more than anything I could.”
Ray McNamara reflected on the numerous holidays and birthdays he and his wife celebrated with family and friends. He said Christmas was their favorite holiday, but since her death, “Christmases are not merry anymore.”
He said he met his wife when he was 13 years old and she was 10. The friendship developed into a serious relationship and the two got married.
“We did not get to finish our happily ever after,” Ray McNamara said.
He told Neal, turning his head several times toward the 25-year-old during his lengthy statement, that Neal “murdered” his wife with his “selfish actions,” destroying many lives in the process and without showing remorse.
“You took away the joy and happiness in my life,” Ray McNamara said.
Dale Kassa said he knew Lauri McNamara for nearly 19 years and worked with Ray McNamara.
The two families enjoyed boating, going out to eat and sharing holiday meals, and Lauri McNamara brought “joy and energy” to those outings.
“Lauri became like a second mom to my children,” Kassa said.
Michelle Bettencourt, Neal’s mother, said her son is “kind-hearted and extremely intelligent.”
Brian Bettencourt, Neal’s stepfather, said he prays that the McNamara family find peace. He called Neal a “special person” who would give anyone in the courtroom the shirt off his back.
He said Neal was thriving before the crash working a steady job, living on his own, driving a new car and saving money to put a down payment on a home.
“He had a bad day and made bad decisions, and no one here disputes that,” Brian Bettencourt said.
But, he said “further ruining another life is not the answer here” when asking Plese for leniency in sentencing.
Plese imposed the high end of the 6 1/2 to 8 1/2-year standard sentence range, plus a 2-year enhancement because of Neal’s previous reckless driving charge that was reduced from DUI. Neal must serve 1 1/2 years of community custody, or probation, when he is released from prison. Plese gave Neal credit for time served, or about 1 1/2 years.
Spokane County deputy prosecutor Stephanie Richards asked that Plese impose 9 1/2 years, including the 2-year enhancement.
Neal’s attorney, Jeffrey Compton, asked that Plese impose an “exceptional sentence,” or prison time below the sentence range, because he claimed the crash would have been survivable if not for a design defect on Lauri McNamara’s car. He also asked Plese to consider that Neal was only 23 at the time of the crash.
“I do think he appreciates the enormity of his actions and has been very thoughtful about it,” Compton said.
Ray McNamara told The Spokesman-Review after the sentencing proceedings that Neal’s sentence was not enough.
“I am grateful the judge went to the maximum of her ability based on legislative guidelines,” he said. “It would have been nice to see her extend that, because I know she can.”
Michelle Bettencourt said after the proceedings that Neal and his family are grieving for the loss of life.
“Nobody wins in this,” she said. “It’s hard to know your son went to jail at 23 and and will get out in his mid-30s.”
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