PORT ANGELES — Zachary Alan Fletcher, convicted of two counts of alcohol-related vehicular assault, was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison, four times higher than the standard sentence range of 12-14 months.
Superior Court Judge Brent Basden cited the severity of the injuries to Jacob Torey and Naomi Kuykendall and Fletcher’s part in allowing alcohol consumption the night of a June 1, 2018, vehicle crash on Ediz Hook.
He also sentenced Fletcher, 23, to 18 months of community custody following completion of his prison term.
Basden had found Fletcher guilty Feb. 21 of crashing his truck on Ediz Hook while drunk, leaving Torey, then 18, with a broken spine and paralyzed from the waist down, and Kuykendall, then 19, with a broken neck and other fractures.
Basden rejected Fletcher’s argument that he was not driving, a statement that contradicted assertions Fletcher made to a police officer, an emergency room doctor and two good Samaritans who stopped to help following the early morning crash, according to court records.
Fletcher’s lawyers, Lane Wolfley of Port Angeles and Larry Freedman of Sequim, pointed to DNA evidence in asserting Fletcher was not driving when the crash occurred on Marine Drive near the McKinley Paper Company plant.
Fletcher, who did not testify at the trial, insisted Wednesday in a barely audible statement to Basden that he was not the driver.
“I didn’t do this because I didn’t want to go to jail,” he said of his not-guilty plea.
“If in my heart I thought I had done this, I would have taken the full [responsibility],” he said, adding he felt bad for Torey.
“The person this is going to affect is my 3-year-old daughter, who will not be able to see her father, and not being able to see her father and understand that,” he said.
“I’m asking, please don’t deprive my daughter of her father for too long.”
The deprivation of Fletcher’s daughter of her father’s presence is “not the fault of what we do,” Basden told Fletcher before he sentenced him.
“That was a result of what you did.
“As a father, you chose to, at 2 o’clock in the morning, to go out drinking and driving.
“As tough as that is, for her and the court, and it’s frustrating to consider the daughter now, that frustration probably pales in comparison to the frustration of the young man who will maybe never have a daughter, grandparents who will never be grandparents because of the injuries that were suffered.
“The changes of life of having to take care of yourself pale in comparison with the changes others have to go through because of what happened that night.”
The message that results from the case may be that whenever someone sees Torey in his wheelchair, “they will be remedied of what happens when vehicles and alcohol are mixed,” Basden said.
In reaching his decision, Basden said he considered the injuries that Torey and Kuykendall suffered and Wolfley’s argument in asking for the standard sentence range.
Wolfley had argued that “we would be talking about a DUI” but for the participation of Torey and Kuykendall, who were minors and were drinking alcohol.
“If one were to identify the central theme of this, it would be a party of young people, in a party out on the highway,” Wolfley said.
“I’m not absolving him of vehicular assault,” Wolfley added.
Basden acknowledged that the person who provided the alcohol the night of the crash also probably committed a crime.
That resulted in minors drinking.
“You allowed that to happen, in your presence and in your car,” Basden told Fletcher.
“All the factors weigh out.”
Before Fletcher was handcuffed and led to the Clallam County jail, Basden wished Fletcher well.
“There are no winners in a case like this,” Basden said.
In recommending a six-year sentence, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Steve Johnson cited Kuykendall’s Snapchat videos showing Fletcher, whose blood-alcohol level was 0.18, more than double the legal limit, driving with his hands off the wheel.
He cited Fletcher reaching speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour right before the crash on a road posted speed limit of 25 and 35 miles per hour.
“Fletcher’s driving went beyond reckless, showing an extreme lack of care or concern for the consequences,” Johnson said.
Torey’s mother gave a victim statement facing Fletcher.
“I don’t hate you,” she said, adding she feels “horrible” for Fletcher’s family.
Fletcher’s father, Frederick, said after the sentencing that his son was “railroaded,” that the physical evidence proved his son was on the passenger side of the vehicle and that Kuykendall was driving.
“He’s not sorry because he wasn’t the driver,” Fletcher insisted.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at email@example.com.