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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jury convicts drunk Walla Walla driver of killing a Tri-Cities man in head-on crash

By Cameron Probert Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK – A 44-year-old man is facing up to 12½ years in prison for killing a Columbia Crest Winery worker in a drunk driving crash two years ago.

A jury found Jesus Avalos Chavez of Walla Walla guilty of vehicular homicide following about a weeklong Benton County trial in which he represented himself.

A sentencing date has not been scheduled yet but Chavez faces 10½ to 12½ years in prison, Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Clark said.

Chavez was heading east in his GMC Sierra pickup on Highway 14 – 6 miles east of Paterson – when he crossed the center line on March 5, 2021, according to court documents.

He slammed head-on into a 2000 Volkswagen Beetle just before midnight and the driver, Manuel Guajardo Jr., 68, was dead before Washington State Patrol troopers arrived.

Guajardo of Kennewick was a machine operator who had lived in the Tri-Cities for 61 years.

The Pasco High grad had worked at the Hanford site and at Boise Cascade before going to work at Columbia Crest Winery, according to his obituary.

Firefighters needed to free Chavez from the crash wreckage, and he was taken to Trios Southridge Hospital in Kennewick.

He told investigators he had four beers around 9 p.m. that night, according to court documents.

Troopers noted that Chavez showed signs of being intoxicated. A blood test showed his blood-alcohol level was 0.18%, more than twice the legal limit.

Benton County prosecutors credited the work of WSP Detective Ryan Sauve and Sgt. Torson Iverson, along with the testimony of witnesses who stopped at the crash to offer their help, according to a Wednesday news release.