PORT TOWNSEND — A Port Townsend man who entered an Alford plea in December to vehicular homicide in the death of bicyclist Marcus Henthorn will not serve any additional time in jail.
Patrick Cleon McConnell, 64, was sentenced Friday in Jefferson County Superior Court to the two days in jail he previously served. He will not be subject to community custody but will be required to pay the minimum $600 in legal financial obligations, according to a plea agreement.
McConnell entered his plea Dec. 20 before Judge Keith Harper. An Alford plea does not admit guilt but acknowledges there may be enough evidence that could lead to a conviction in a jury trial.
A previous charge of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol had been dismissed.
“This case has presented difficulties for both sides,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Julie St. Marie, who added the state is not concerned about McConnell committing another offense.
St. Marie said Henthorn’s wife did not oppose the agreement with no jail time.
Seventeen letters of support were filed with the court on behalf of McConnell, who was driving his vehicle down 19th Street in Port Townsend in March 2018 and turned in front of Henthorn at Landes Street.
Henthorn, 75, who was wearing a helmet, collided with the vehicle and landed on the pavement. The well-known artist and former city transportation advisory board member was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he died the next day.
The vehicular homicide charge is a Class A felony that carried a standard range of 15 to 20 months in prison based on McConnell’s lack of criminal history. He signed a first-time offender waiver, according to court documents.
McConnell briefly addressed the court, saying he felt horrible about what happened.
“Ten seconds could have changed everything,” he said.
Defense attorney Richard Davies of Jefferson Associated Counsel argued on behalf of McConnell both in court and in a sentencing memorandum he filed last Monday.
“This case is a tragedy all the way around,” Davies wrote. “One man died and the other felt like it. Mr. McConnell grieves for Mr. Henthorn and his family’s loss every day.”
Davies said the DUI was the most troubling aspect.
First responders noted McConnell’s eyes failed a standard field sobriety test for horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), which refers to an involuntary movement of the eyes, according to court documents.
However, McConnell had been prescribed gabapentin for pain following a career-ending neck injury more than a decade ago, and he did not know the medication can cause impairment, Davies said.
He has taken gabapentin since early 2016, according to court documents. Davies added McConnell had no traffic violations during that time.
His sister, Nicolette McConnell, said Patrick worked as a shipwright in both Washougal and Port Townsend until a workplace accident in 2009.
“He tried various therapies, surgery and was part of a trial that involved implanting a small device in his back to relieve pain,” she wrote in her letter of support. “None were very successful.”
When McConnell was 59, he trained in municipal water treatment and completed a two-year certification program through Green River College in Auburn, Nicolette said, but he re-injured his back and was no longer able to work.
Michael and Valerie Phimister wrote a letter to the court Jan. 23 that said McConnell was at their house for about 20 minutes before the fatal collision, which occurred about 90 seconds after he left.
“During that time, we did not notice that he was impaired in any way, nor have we ever seen him impaired,” the Phimisters wrote. “Had that been the case, we would never have let him get into his car and drive away.”
The Phimisters said they consider themselves good judges because they both worked in the drug and alcohol field for many years.
“Both of us received training for chemical dependency counseling and worked in that field in the public schools as both counselors and administrators,” they wrote.
Other letters praised McConnell as a community volunteer, a man who once risked his own life and boat to rescue two kayakers who had capsized in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and someone who always put others’ needs before his own.
In open court on Friday, Davies called the agreed recommendation from both parties “unusual.”
He said McConnell disputes the allegation that he had a disregard for the safety of others and said the intersection of 19th and Landes streets is dangerous.
“The trouble is, bikes can come faster down that hill than cars doing the speed limit,” Davies said.
There were two bicyclists traveling down 19th Street that day, and McConnell noted them as he passed, his sister said.
“When Patrick approached Landes, he checked his passenger mirror and his rear-view mirror in order to locate the cyclist he had passed,” she wrote. “It was then that he saw a cyclist in the car lane behind him. Having checked and believing everyone was safe, he made the turn onto Landes where the tragic fatal accident took place.”
Davies said McConnell has been in therapy since that day, and he allegedly attempted suicide after the first day of his trial in October.
That proceeding was ruled a mistrial, and McConnell agreed to the plea bargain several weeks later.
Harper said he was impressed with the number of people who wrote letters and what their contents contained.
“Very few people get this kind of support in a proceeding like this,” Harper said.
“To me, and to all these people, it really was just a tragic accident.”
Harper cited one letter — from Kathleen Cox of Port Townsend — that said, “Mr. Henthorn tragically died, but Patrick also lost his life that day.
“The severe emotional impact of the accident and Mr. [Henthorn’s] death has changed Patrick’s life, and although he seeks and receives support, he is still working toward healing.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].