Man sentenced to 4.5 years for fatal hit and run

Driver left his friend in his car, critically injured, after driving into a tree

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: June 15, 2012, 7:13 PM

 

A Vancouver man who crashed his Cadillac, then had his wife pick him up from the scene as his passenger lay mortally wounded, was sentenced Friday to 4.5 years in prison for felony hit-and-run.

Jason Brock Graham, 37, was driving on Northeast Cedar Creek Road in north Clark County on Oct. 16, 2010. His car hit a tree, gravely injuring his front-seat passenger, H. Sloan Blanchard of Amboy. Graham left the scene after calling his wife.

Graham pleaded guilty May 11 to hit-and-run in exchange for prosecutors’ dropping a vehicular homicide charge.

Blanchard’s relatives rebuked Graham Friday afternoon for leaving the victim — his best friend. Blanchard, 27, died about a week later in the hospital after being taken off life support.

“I wonder if he would still be here if Jason would have stopped,” said Adam Blanchard, the victim’s brother. About Blanchard, he said: “He would have fought to help Jason because that’s how he was.”

After hearing the emotional words for more than an hour, Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard imposed the maximum punishment under the sentencing guidelines. She chose not to allow Graham to serve half his 54-month prison term in a drug-offender treatment program, as defense attorney Gregg Schile requested.

Woolard pointed out that such treatment wasn’t appropriate for the charge, considering Graham wasn’t intoxicated at the time of the crime. He had initially been charged with vehicular homicide for alleged reckless driving.

“This was an extremely cruel situation,” she said. “I just don’t understand that kind of behavior.”

Woolard also cited Graham’s criminal record, which includes convictions for driving while suspended, driving under the influence of intoxicants and possession of a controlled substance. Graham has said he struggles with methamphetamine addiction and alcoholism.

“If that’s not a disaster waiting to happen, I don’t know what is,” the judge said.

A Clark County sheriff’s deputy saw the driver of a Cadillac tailgating another vehicle that evening and then making a reckless pass at a high speed, according to court documents. Moments later, the deputy was dispatched to a single-vehicle crash and found the passenger trapped in a Cadillac but no driver in sight.

Prosecutors said Graham telephoned his wife, Sarah D. Graham, to pick him up from the scene. Deputies later found Graham at the hospital and arrested him.

Sarah Graham pleaded guilty May 31 to rendering criminal assistance and making a false statement to a public servant. She received 20 days on a jail work crew.

Friday, prior to receiving his sentence, Graham heard from Blanchard’s relatives. They talked about how Blanchard was always willing to lend a helping hand, worked hard as a welder and had helped his sister stay clean and sober after she was released from prison.

Graham wept as he listened. “It hurts me so much,” he said. “I know that nothing I can say or do will bring him back.”

He explained that he wasn’t trying to flee, but that he was disoriented and lost. He didn’t have cell phone reception in the remote area and was trying to get help, so he called his wife.

He apologized to Blanchard’s family and said he wanted to make amends.

“My biggest regret is not calling 911,” he said.

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