Motorist denies guilt in fatal 1-car crash

Prosecutor alleges driver was impaired by at least alcohol

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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A motorist pleaded not guilty Friday to driving drunk and causing a crash in Battle Ground that killed his passenger.

Serengaw Ham, 28, of Portland was arraigned on a charge of vehicular homicide and driving while suspended. Clark County Superior Court Judge Daniel Stahnke set trial for July 2.

Ham reportedly caused the crash that killed Arnoux Benjamin, 18, of Portland.

According to paperwork filed with the court, deputies responded to the crash about 11:20 p.m. April 24 at the 20700 block of Northeast Risto Road. They found a 1997 Ford Crown Victoria had hit a tree on the south side of the road. Benjamin died at the scene.

A drug recognition expert evaluated Ham at the hospital, where he was being treated, and “determined that Ham was under the influence of alcohol and also, possibly, marijuana,” according to a probable cause affidavit signed by Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu.

A sheriff’s deputy also found an opened 12-pack box of Budweiser beer behind the driver’s seat, according to Vu’s affidavit.

Ham is being held in the Clark County Jail.

At his first appearance, prosecutors said the defendant had two previous unconfirmed DUIs from Oregon over the past three years and several other previous violations.

The penalties for DUI vehicular homicide are 6.5 to 8.5 years in prison for a first-time offender.