Vancouver man gets 96 months in prison in vehicular homicide

Relatives of victim, 26, give emotional testimony at sentencing

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A Vancouver man was sentenced Monday to eight years in prison for striking and killing a 26-year-old motorist while driving drunk April 11 in the Rose Village neighborhood and then fleeing the scene on foot.

Mark D. Gant, 21, pleaded guilty in Clark County Superior Court to vehicular homicide and hit-and-run causing death.

The victim, Charles “Charlie” A. Heroux Jr., was on his way to spend time with his brother, girlfriend and some friends when he was struck and killed, his family said.

“I’ve been praying for justice,” Heroux’s brother, Dan Johnson, said at Monday’s hearing. “I don’t know exactly what that means, if it’s a death sentence like you gave to my brother, or if it’s forgiveness. He got a death sentence.”

Heroux’s mother, Jackie McKay; father, Charles “Chuck” Heroux Sr.; stepfather, Russ McKay; stepmother, Teri Heroux, and uncle Jeff Schuldheiss also gave emotional testimony, while his girlfriend and best friend sat in the courtroom’s public gallery.

“(Charlie) was a wonderful human being,” Heroux’s father said. “I loved hearing him say, ‘I love you, Dad.’ I don’t get to hear that anymore because you took him because of your stupidity. Do you have any remorse for what you did?”

“Absolutely,” replied Gant, who sat in a chair at the front of the courtroom wearing orange jail clothes and shackles.

He later asked for their forgiveness and acknowledged that he had “caused two families more pain than anyone should have to endure.”

Eight of Gant’s family members and friends also sat in the courtroom’s public gallery, but none of them spoke.

Though Gant faced up to 125 months in prison for the two crimes, Judge Scott Collier sentenced him to 96 months as part of a plea deal between Gant’s attorney, Nick Wood, and Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu. Gant also was sentenced to 18 months of probation and ordered to pay more than $9,000 in restitution. He is required to undergo drug and alcohol evaluations and receive recommended treatment. Collier also revoked his driver’s license.

In exchange for Gant’s guilty plea, Vu dismissed six other charges: vehicular assault; felony hit-and-run causing injury; driving under the influence; reckless driving; hit-and-run causing property damage; and minor in possession of alcohol. Gant was 20 at the time of the crash.

Just before the fatal collision, Heroux had been training to become an electrician, his mother said.

Gant had just become a father. He had been working to rebuild his life after past criminal convictions, including for a residential burglary and possession of a controlled substance, his grandparents have said. He was enrolled at Clark College and working at Habitat for Humanity.

Heroux died immediately when Gant, driving a gray 1989 Honda Prelude, failed to stop at a stop sign, sped southbound at 77 mph and struck Heroux’s blue 1962 GMC pickup at the intersection of East 33rd and P streets, where the posted speed limit is 25 mph, Vu said. The impact spun the GMC into a pole on the southeast corner of the intersection. Gant’s Honda spun to the south, striking a northbound blue 1999 Chevy S10 pickup stopped on 33rd Street at the intersection.

Gant, covered in blood and glass fragments and reeking of alcohol, started to run westbound on 33rd Street. A male witness pursued Gant and threatened to stop him forcibly if he didn’t sit down and wait for authorities. Gant then sat on the sidewalk about 120 feet from the accident scene until Vancouver police arrived. Two passengers in Gant’s vehicle were transported to a local hospital, treated and released.

Toxicology tests showed that Gant had a blood alcohol level of 0.2; the legal limit for driving is 0.08. He also tested positive for THC — the active component in marijuana.