In the same year, other motorists charged with vehicular homicide were later sentenced to anywhere from four to 16 years. One motorist who struck and killed a pedestrian in 2012 only received six months in the Clark County Jail.
Tanya Mosh, Raisa’s eldest daughter, said she was disappointed and shocked with the sentence handed down to her mother’s killer.
“I feel like eight years is a really small amount, obviously,” Mosh said in a March interview with The Columbian. “I think he did deserve at least 20 years.
“The most frustrating part was that he did hurt two different families,” she added.
The Legislature dictates the sentencing guidelines that judges have before them.
“We are limited on what we can do in the system,” says Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu, who handles Clark County’s vehicular homicide and assault cases.
However, a partial solution is in sight for victims who have decried the sentencing guidelines for these crimes.
Gov. Jay Inslee last month signed into law a measure known as Jason’s Law, named for a father who died by vehicular homicide in Pasco last year.
Beginning June 8, the sentencing range for vehicular homicide caused by driving in a reckless manner will increase from 21 months to 27 months to 78 months to 102 months.
“Unfortunately, it takes a true tragedy like this to make us aware as policymakers of these inequities in the policy guidelines,” said Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, one of the bill’s sponsors. “Let’s hope this sends a clear message: If you’re going to drive recklessly, you’re going to be held accountable.”
The new law will not apply in some cases, however, and may not be enough to satisfy victims’ loved ones.
‘Justice not served’
Heather Luden doesn’t leave home without her dad’s gold ring, which she wears on a chain around her neck. It’s one of the fond reminders she has left of him.
James Luden was riding his motorcycle April 14, 2014, on Padden Parkway when he was struck from behind by another vehicle. Luden, 54, had been stopped at a traffic light. He died at the scene.
The driver who struck him, Tanya Leffler, was sentenced in January to 7.75 years in prison, about a year short of the maximum. She had been driving under the influence of methamphetamine.
“Justice was not served that day,” Heather Luden said.
“The situation isn’t fair, not to my family or the community,” she added. “(Leffler) made all of the choices. We had no choice in this.”
Luden said she’s not only outraged that the judge didn’t give Leffler the maximum sentence, she’s angry that Leffler was released from jail multiple times on bail, only to commit new crimes.
While out on bail in the vehicular homicide case, Leffler violated her release conditions by possessing methamphetamine with the intent to sell it and by growing marijuana. She bailed out again but was back in court a few days later for violating the conditions of her release by misrepresenting where she was living and failing to report to corrections officials.
After posting bail a third time, Leffler tested positive for methamphetamine use. She also was picked up on a warrant when she didn’t show up for a court appearance. Members of the U.S. Marshals Service took her into custody about a week later near Salem, Ore.
“It was a continuous slap in the face. We had to relive it every time she was arrested,” Luden said. “Nobody should be given so many chances, especially with something so serious. (My dad) didn’t get any chances.”
Jason’s Law is a “baby step” in the right direction, Luden said, but she thinks the sentencing guidelines for vehicular homicide need to drastically change.
“Twenty years is a life-changing amount of time,” she said. “What stops people from breaking the law? Consequences. If the consequences are scary enough, you might doublethink what you’re doing.”
Disparity in sentences
Leffler’s case was just one of 27 vehicular homicides filed in Clark County over the last six years, according to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
One of the lengthiest sentences handed down for a vehicular homicide in recent years was 200 months, or about 16.5 years, to a man named Duane Abbott.
Abbott was sentenced last year for striking and killing 7-year-old Cadence Boyer with his vehicle while she was trick-or-treating Halloween 2014. Cadence and her mother, Annie Boyer, and another woman and girl were walking on a sidewalk along Northeast 112th Avenue in Vancouver when Abbott ran into them with his car.
Abbott was driving under the influence of marijuana and methamphetamine at the time.
Vu said it was one of the most horrific vehicular homicide cases he’s seen.
“What’s different about these crimes is it can happen to anybody. There’s no way to predict who it’s going to happen to,” he said. “It crosses gender, races, class. It has the most potential for impacting the most lives.”
The sad part, he added, is that the crimes are preventable. “It’s up to the person who’s driving,” Vu said.