Driver sentenced to 41 months for Highway 14 fatality

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: January 31, 2012, 5:44 PM

 

At 30, Russell Amon said he hasn’t had a driver’s license consistently for much longer than a teenager.

He has two prior DUIs on his record, as well as convictions for reckless driving and attempt to elude police. After having his license suspended in 2008, he finally got it back in spring 2011.

It didn’t last long.

On Aug. 20, 2011, Amon was driving on Highway 14 east of Washougal when his passenger, sitting on the back edge of the convertible’s passenger compartment, fell out of the moving car and died.

Because Amon was alleged to have been driving recklessly and then fled the scene, he was charged with vehicular homicide and felony hit and run.

On Tuesday, Clark County Superior Court Judge Daniel Stahnke sentenced him to 41 months in prison, which the judge described as a culmination of his poor driving decisions.

“You have a pretty horrific driving record,” the judge said. “So it was only a matter of time that something horrific like this would happen.”

Amon, of Portland, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide Jan. 19, admitting he drove with disregard for the safety of others when Jose Gonzalez-Ramirez died. As part of a plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to drop the felony hit-and-run charge.

The 41-month sentence, which includes 162 days of credit for time Amon has already served in jail, was requested by the prosecution and the defense.

It’s the low end of the sentencing range of 41 to 54 months.

Amon also loses his driver’s license for a year upon his release from prison.

At the sentencing hearing, the prosecution and defense described different ways they got to the plea agreement.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Alan Harvey said he considered Amon’s lengthy record of traffic offenses to show a “well-established pattern.”

“In no way was this an accident,” he said.

On the day in question, drivers told state troopers that they saw Amon speeding, cutting off another car, swerving and spinning out. He sped off before returning to see a group of people starting to surround the victim, Harvey said. Gonzalez-Ramirez apparently tried to wave to Amon, but the car sped off again.

Defense attorney Susan Stauffer had a nearly opposite analysis of the case.

“I think taking everything into account, this case in our perspective is an accident,” she said.

She said there was dispute over whether Amon was, in fact, driving recklessly. When he made a pass on the highway just before the victim’s death, it was legal, she said.

Stauffer, instead, turned the lens on Gonzalez-Ramirez.

“The victim, unbeknownst to my client, was so intoxicated he was acting out and moving out of his seat,” she said.

While she said she didn’t want to minimize the tragedy, “the victim was doing something very stupid, unbeknownst to my client,” Stauffer said.

When it was his turn to speak, Amon reiterated his attorney’s words. He said he had no idea his friend-of-a-friend, Gonzalez-Ramirez, was out of his seat.

He did apologize to the victim’s family, who were not at the hearing.

“I never thought in my wildest dreams, someone would do something like that,” Amon said of Gonzalez-Ramirez.

“How many opportunities have you had to drive?” Stahnke asked.

“Not many, your honor,” Amon said.

Taking into account there were allegations Amon was under the influence of alcohol, Stahnke ordered drug and alcohol treatment in prison.

“You should not drink and drive ever,” the judge said. And, Stahnke said, it would be awhile until he could drive at all.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts;www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.