Jury: Battle Ground man guilty of vehicular homicide

Defense assertions about faulty brakes do not convince jurors

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After less than 90 minutes of deliberation Friday, a Clark County jury found a Battle Ground man guilty of vehicular homicide in connection with the death of his girlfriend.

Ryan L. Matison, 22, was speeding in his 1994 Toyota Corolla on southbound Northeast 29th Avenue when he failed to stop at a stop sign at Northeast 219th Street and collided with an eastbound 2006 Chevrolet Silverado pickup, according to Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu.

The impact killed Samantha Effingham, 17, who was in the Corolla’s passenger seat.

After a four-day trial, the jury was asked Thursday to decide whether Matison drove with “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

Jurors began deliberations at 4:40 p.m. Thursday and resumed deliberation at 9 a.m. Friday. They announced they had reached a verdict at about 10 a.m. Matison also was found guilty of reckless driving.

Matison, who sat at a counsel table with his attorney, Chris Sundstrom, appeared stoic during the reading of the verdict.

Effingham’s mother, Tracey Effingham, softly cried. Matison’s mother rushed out of the courtroom.

“The first thing I thought of was, ‘There is a God,’ and he wasn’t going to get away with what he did,” Tracey Effingham said later.

Superior Court Judge Suzan Clark revoked Matison’s bond and ordered him to jail.

Matison had been free on supervised release since February 2013, shortly after his arrest.

He is scheduled to be sentenced at 11 a.m. Aug. 8.

During testimony, Washington State Patrol Detective Jennifer Ortiz said that just before the crash on Nov. 23, 2012, Matison was driving 59 to 64 mph in a 40 mph zone on Northeast 29th Avenue. His Corolla collided with the Silverado, driven by Luke Merriman of Battle Ground. Matison claimed he was driving only 40 to 45 mph just before the collision. He also said his brakes weren’t working properly, which prevented him from stopping at the stop sign.

Investigators asked Dwayne Jacox of Clark County Shops to inspect the Toyota’s brakes after the crash. Jacox testified Wednesday that Matison’s brakes were in working order, despite some minor seepage in the left rear wheel cylinder. However, defense expert Tom Fries — an accident reconstructionist — countered Jacox’s opinion. He testified that leakage in the rear wheel cylinder could cause malfunction — specifically the perception that the brake is going to the floor but not working. Fries also criticized Ortiz’s methods for calculating Matison’s impact speed. He estimated that Matison was driving between 45 and 53 mph at the time of the crash.

Sundstrom argued that the crash was just a tragic accident.

Toxicology tests also showed that Matison tested positive after the crash for 2.9 milligrams of THC in his body — below the legal limit. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary mind-altering chemical in marijuana. But he told investigators that he hadn’t smoked in “weeks or months,” Vu said. Vu wanted to present that information to the jury to attack Matison’s credibility on the stand, but Clark ruled Monday that information would not be admissable.

Several of Samantha Effingham’s family members, wearing yellow ribbons in her honor, attended the entire trial. Three of her friends also were present for the verdict. Merriman — the driver of the Silverado — also watched the verdict.

“Obviously, this was the result we were looking for,” said Samantha’s father, Jeff Effingham. “We were fairly confident in the end result just because we have been here the whole time and we saw the evidence the jury saw.”

“It was a fast result,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily think it would be such a fast result, but the evidence was pretty straightforward. The case was built well by the prosecutors, and it was fairly simple for a layperson to follow.”