There were a lot of words — generous, athletic, altruistic and funny — to describe a young couple who died in a fatal motorcycle accident in July, a judge said Thursday.
But in describing the crash that killed them and what justice she could impose, Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson was at a loss for words.
She instead, deferred to what the couple’s family friend said in a letter to her: “No sentence will bring them back.”
“There are no words I can express to say it better,” Johnson said.
The judge then sentenced a La Center man to 4 1/2 years in prison, the maximum sentence allowed under law, for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed Steven Dodd, 35, and Karey Brown, 34.
Johnson explained how the Legislature sets the sentencing guidelines and how, while it may seem slim, the sentence reflects how the crime isn’t an intentional homicide.
David W. Moss-Van Soest, 22, pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide in connection to the July 3 crash.
Dozens of family and friends and law enforcement officers packed Johnson’s courtroom Thursday morning, with many people having to stand for the hourlong hearing.
Both Dodd and Brown, a financial investigator with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office’s drug task force for 12 years, were popular in the community and known for being active in nearly all sports and outdoor activities.
The judge said she received “perhaps an unprecedented number of victim impact statements” from family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.
Four of them spoke before sentencing, standing next to a large framed photo of the smiling boyfriend and girlfriend. They talked about all the activities the two loved: camping, hiking and riding their motorcycles. They also talked about how Brown was experienced in nearly every sport, such as softball, soccer and track.
Family and friends touched on the things Brown and Dodd would miss out on.
“Karey will never be able to be a mother, and Steve will never be a father,” said Brown’s brother, Don Brown.
And then there was talk about what the family and friends were missing.
“I get a promotion at work. And my brother’s dead,” said Dodd’s brother, Jeff Dodd. “I go on vacation. And my brother’s dead.”
The words apparently resonated with Moss-Van Soest, who began crying as family members filed to the front of the courtroom to speak. When it was his turn to talk, Moss-Van Soest asked the judge if it was OK to turn around and address family members. She said yes.
“I wish I could take it back,” he said, standing at a podium. “And I would trade places with them any time of the week.”
The night of July 3, Moss-Van Soest had crossed the center line in his sedan, striking the couple as they rode two motorcycles in the 1600 block of Northwest La Center Road, only 200 feet from the couple’s La Center home.
Moss-Van Soest and his passenger, Billy Backus, were treated for minor injuries.
After the crash, deputies said Moss-Van Soest showed signs of alcohol intoxication, and he admitted he shouldn’t have been driving. Later at the hospital, his blood-alcohol level was 0.18, more than twice the legal limit, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Fairgrieve.
Dodd and Brown died at the scene.
Coincidentally, Brown was a crime victim in a high-profile third-degree assault trial in 1995, when a Clark County man was accused of accidentally discharging his handgun, striking a then-19-year-old Brown as she was walking her dog along an Orchards roadway.
Brown’s injuries stymied a promising future as a college track star.
Moss-Van Soest’s life appears pretty grim, as well, defense attorney Therese Lavallee said. He suffers symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder from the crash. And when he goes to prison, he will be leaving behind a young child.
“It has far-reaching consequences and he understands that,” she said.
Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.