By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The 25-year-old Port Angeles woman pled guilty to vehicular homicide for driving close to three times over the legal limit for alcohol when she crossed a centerline on state Highway 112 and killed 44-year-old Ellen Joan DeBondt in a nearly-head-on wreck east of Joyce on the morning of March 6, 2011.
The State Patrol said Steim had a 0.23-percent blood alcohol level about an hour after the 7:54 a.m. wreck.
The legal limit in Washington 0.08 percent.
The 72-month sentence includes eight months for witness tampering, to which Steim entered an Alford plea.
The witness tampering charge stems from a jailhouse phone call in which Steim allegedly told a friend to remind her attorney that she drank alcohol after the wreck because she was in pain.
An Alford plea means Steim maintains her innocence but admits there is enough evidence for a conviction.
A charge of reckless endangerment — and the aggravating circumstances to vehicular homicide — were dropped in exchange for a guilty plea.
The six-year sentence will be reduced for the 10 months that Steim has already spent in the Clallam County jail.
It will not be lowered, however, for the eight months that Steim was out on bail wearing an alcohol detection bracelet, which detected a 0.058 alcohol level on Oct. 30 and resulted in a remand back to jail.
Steim will eligible for a reduced sentence for good behavior at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy.
Steim sobbed as she addressed about three dozen of DeBondt’s friends and family members near the end of a two-hour sentencing hearing.
“I want to say I deeply apologize for my actions, and I take full responsibility,” Steim said.
“I was an alcoholic, and I have an addiction. And now I took a special person away from this world. I am very sorry for all the pain I have caused the family and friends of Ellen DeBondt.”
Steim’s statement followed 80 minutes of emotional testimony from DeBondt’s family and friends.
Family who couldn’t make the trip from Hawaii had their victim impact statements read aloud by DeBondt’s close friends.
Ken DeBondt, Ellen DeBondt’s husband, was the first to speak.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t shed some tears,” he said.
“I think about her every day. I am sure I will continue to do so for as long as I live.”
The DeBondts moved from Seattle to a home above their favorite surf spot at Crescent Beach in June 2009, where the couple
“shared a deep love for being active and outdoors.”
“She had so much promise and joy in her future, and so much to give,” Ken DeBondt said.
“We are all losing out. Not just her friends and family, but the entire community.”