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Driver in Van Mall double-fatality hit-and-run gets 8 1/2 years

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Published: December 11, 2014, 4:00pm
6 Photos
Brandon Smith arrives in court Friday to plead guilty to charges related to the hit and run crash that killed Raisa Mosh, 45, and Irina Gardinant, 28, near Vancouver mall early this year, at the Clark County Courthouse.
Brandon Smith arrives in court Friday to plead guilty to charges related to the hit and run crash that killed Raisa Mosh, 45, and Irina Gardinant, 28, near Vancouver mall early this year, at the Clark County Courthouse. Photo Gallery

Raisa and Georgiy Mosh immigrated to the United States from Moldova in June 1998 with the hope of giving their children a better life. They chose the U.S. city of Vancouver as their new home.

“When my parents first came to America, they didn’t know English,” said Tanya Mosh, the couple’s eldest daughter. “It was really hard for them. They encouraged us to get a good education.”

The couple couldn’t have known that on Jan. 19 of this year a careless driver would end the lives of Raisa Mosh, 45, and her friend, Irina Gardinant, 28, and then drive away.

That driver, Brandon C. Smith, 28, of Vancouver was sentenced in Clark County Superior Court Friday to 8 1/2 years in prison — the maximum allowed by the law — for striking and killing the women.

The two women and Mosh’s son, Mark, then 12, were returning from a baby shower at about 8 p.m. on a Sunday.

As they crossed Vancouver Mall Drive at the intersection of Northeast 72nd Avenue, Smith’s white 2007 Toyota Tacoma pickup struck them in the crosswalk.

They had the walk sign, but the truck ran the red light.

Vancouver police Officer Jeff Starks said the force of the impact propelled Raisa Mosh 66 feet out of the crosswalk. Gardinant was projected 35 feet out of the crosswalk.

Smith drove away without calling 911 or stopping to help the victims. Raisa Mosh died at the scene; Gardinant died in the hospital the next day, and Mark Mosh sustained a broken wrist and injured leg, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu.

“Imagine waking up every morning having just seen your mom in a dream, happy and talking and when you wake up, then reality hits that she’s gone,” Tanya Mosh said. “It was all just a dream, and you have to live another day without being able to see her or being able to hug her and talk to her. It’s like getting run over by a bulldozer every single morning.”

A damaged truck

At first, police had few clues. A break in the case came when detectives located and seized Brandon Smith’s white pickup with front-end damage from the Larkspur Place Apartments on Vancouver Mall Drive, where Smith lived with his girlfriend, Kalista Andino, and their baby daughter. A search of his computer revealed that he had ordered a new front grille for the truck the day after the collision, Vu said.

“It is shocking because of the damage done and the callous flight from the responsibility for that damage done,” said Judge David Gregerson. “It raises the question philosophically: Which is worse, the fatalities themselves or the failure to render aid and to be responsible under the circumstances?”

Investigators suspected that Smith may have been drinking alcohol shortly before the collision. He had just left a party where revelers were imbibing and watching a Seahawks football game. However, police were unable to locate Smith in time to conduct toxicology tests.

Smith pleaded guilty Friday to amended charges of two counts of vehicular homicide, one count of vehicular assault and one count of hit-and-run death.

He said he feels remorse for his actions and asked the victims’ families to forgive him.

“I can honestly tell you I never saw them (in the crosswalk), and after impact, I didn’t know what I hit,” he said. “I instantly went into denial that what I hit could have been people.”

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He said when he realized what he had done he went to his attorney, Jon McMullen, to start the process of surrendering.

In exchange for Smith’s guilty plea, the Prosecutor’s Office dismissed a gross misdemeanor charge of tampering with physical evidence, which would not have added more time his prison sentence.

More than 20 of Mosh’s and Gardinant’s family members attended Friday’s court hearing, including the victims’ husbands and children.

Mosh was the mother of four: Tanya, 21; Nick, 19; Alina, 18; and Mark, who is now 13. She was the caretaker for her husband’s elderly father, and she was very close to her five brothers and three sisters, her family said. Gardinant’s 3-year-old daughter was 2 at the time of Gardinant’s death.

Several of Smith’s family members, including his mother, Linda Smith, also were present. Linda Smith is charged with tampering with witnesses in the vehicular homicide investigation and is scheduled to be tried on those charges Feb. 9. She allegedly told witnesses not to talk to police.

Survivors’ burden

Since Raisa Mosh’s death, Tanya has taken on the maternal role in the Mosh household while she continues her studies in business management at Washington State University Vancouver.

“My dad is constantly working in an effort to continue providing for our broken family,” Tanya Mosh said. “As the oldest child, the entire load of what my mom did has been set on me. Taking care of the bills, cooking and housework are now my responsibility. I had to pick up from where my mom left off and basically become the female leader in the house. It’s like being forced to be married before you’re ready and having to take care of three other people right off the bat.”

However, she said she is devoted to continuing her studies — in part because that’s what her mother would have wanted.

“She was really encouraging to all of us with school,” Tanya Mosh said. “I decided to retake a math class during the summer because I didn’t do very well in it. I remember how hard it was because I’m not good at math. She told me it’ll be worth it in the end. It’s hard not having that support.”

The Moshes are Gagauzian, members of an ethnic minority in Moldova originally from Turkey.

Tanya Mosh said she sometimes tries to imitate the traditional Gagauzian dishes her mother used to make, such as a savory pastry filled with cottage cheese and topped with sour cream, but it doesn’t taste the same.

“Every day since my mom was killed has felt incomplete,” she said.

She said she mourns for all the future moments her mother will miss, including her university graduation, her wedding day and the birth of her children.

“The laughter, hugs, guidance, and all the opportunities to say ‘I love you’ are forever gone, all because of Brandon’s reckless, irresponsible and careless actions,” she said.

In addition to 8 1/2 years in prison, Gregerson sentenced Smith to 12 months of community supervision and more than $10,000 in restitution, and revoked Smith’s driver’s license for a period of two years after he is released from prison. He also is barred from having contact with the victims’ families for a period of 50 years.

“There are many consequences and implications from a crime like this, only some of which can be answered in a court of law,” Gregerson said. “To that extent, our remedies here are limited, and it’s in situations like this that the court fully appreciates those limitations.”

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