Hit-and-run suspect allegedly texting when car hit pedestrian

Pedestrian Stephen Dewey, 65, died a week after being struck

By Paris Achen and Emily Gillespie


Updated: February 27, 2014, 10:09 AM


A Camas woman was sending text messages when her vehicle struck and killed a 65-year-old man using a walker to cross Mill Plain Boulevard in October, according to court documents.

About a month later, Jessica B. VanWechel, 30, of Camas texted a relative:

“‘I got into a crash. … I could do some prison time,’” according to a court affidavit.

VanWechel was arrested Wednesday night and appeared Thursday morning in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of hit-and-run death.

At first, VanWechel refused to appear in front of the judge, but a custody officer later persuaded her to cooperate. She was escorted into the courtroom alone, wearing blue jail clothes and wrist and ankle shackles.

Judge Scott Collier found probable cause to hold VanWechel on charges of both hit-and-run death and vehicular homicide. The judge set bail at $75,000 because she has a record of failing to appear for at least one court hearing related to a 2009 marijuana possession and possession of stolen property case.

The judge appointed Vancouver attorney Louis Byrd Jr. to defend her. She is scheduled to be arraigned March 13.

The accident occurred about 7 p.m. Oct. 28. Stephen D. Dewey was using a walker to cross Mill Plain Boulevard at Southeast 105th Avenue when a powder blue Toyota Paseo struck him in a crosswalk, then sped away, according to the court affidavit.

The traffic signal for east-west traffic on Mill Plain had turned green while Dewey was still in the crosswalk, the affidavit says.

Dewey was transported to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, where he died about a week later from blunt trauma to the head.

Prosecutors allege VanWechel later confided to a friend that she had looked down to send a text when her car struck Dewey, and that she fled the scene because she didn’t have insurance.

Police detectives found fresh paint chips and headlight lens fragments at the scene, which match VanWechel’s vehicle, the affidavit says. Her car also had lens damage, the affidavit says.

The arrest was made after Vancouver police issued a bulletin Wednesday asking local officers to look out for a damaged powder blue Toyota.

About 9:50 p.m., a Camas police officer spotted the vehicle, stopped it and arrested VanWechel.

Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said making progress in the four-month-old crime was challenging because there were many vehicles in the area at the time of the crash, and there was no video surveillance.

“We certainly did not forget about Mr. Dewey’s case,” Kapp said. “Hopefully, this will provide some closure to the family.”