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News / Clark County News

Man sentenced to 26 months in fatal 2015 crash

He will remain free while he appeals pair of convictions

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: February 8, 2017, 8:35pm

A Battle Ground man found guilty of causing a deadly 2015 crash on state Highway 503 was sentenced Wednesday to more than two years in prison, but he will remain out of custody while he appeals his convictions.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Scott Collier sentenced Dean Imokawa to 26 months in prison, the low end of the sentencing range, in spite of the prosecution’s request for a mid-range sentence of 30 months. Imokawa potentially faced a sentence up to 34 months in prison.

Collier acknowledged that the sentence may be hard for the victims to understand but said Imokawa, 48, has no prior criminal history. The court also received about 30 letters of support on behalf of Imokawa from community members.

Sentencing to the low end is appropriate in some cases, Collier said, and added that if Imokawa’s case is not an example of that, he didn’t know what is.

A jury found Imokawa guilty of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault, both caused by disregarding the safety of others, in January. He was acquitted of a charge of reckless driving, and jurors could not agree on whether recklessness played a factor in the other convictions.

The April 2, 2015, crash resulted in the death of 86-year-old Eleanor Tapani of Battle Ground. She died the next day from multiple blunt-force injuries.

Imokawa was driving a 2006 GMC pickup north on the highway shortly after 9:30 a.m. when he attempted to pass a Land Rover he was traveling behind in the left lane. He used the right lane to pass the vehicle and then merged back into the left lane on the Salmon Creek bridge. When merging, his pickup struck the front right corner of the Land Rover, and both vehicles lost control, crossed the median and entered the southbound lanes. A southbound Kia Sorento, driven by Tapani’s daughter, Linda Dallum, struck Imokawa’s pickup.

Dallum, also of Battle Ground, suffered multiple fractured ribs and fractures to her right ankle, foot and kneecap in the crash.

In a statement provided to the court, Dallum wrote that she was in a wheelchair for more than three months after the crash, then required a walker and a cane. The hardest part, however, was losing her “dear, sweet mother,” she wrote. Dallum was not present during the hearing, but her statement was read aloud by the prosecution.

Imokawa offered his deepest sympathy to the victims. “I can’t change what happened that day,” he said. “I wish I could.”

When arguing about sentencing, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu said Imokawa may not have intended to harm anyone, but his conduct was no accident. He questioned where Imokawa’s sense of responsibility was when he decided to speed, tailgate and cut in front of other drivers. An accident is something that is unavoidable, Vu said, and this crash was avoidable.

Imokawa’s defense attorney, Steve Thayer, strongly disagreed. He said everyone in the courtroom has exceeded the speed limit, tailgated or passed another vehicle, but those are not examples of egregious driving. Supporters of Imokawa describe him as kind-hearted, decent, considerate and easy to get along with, Thayer said.

In arguing for him to remain out of custody while he appeals his convictions, Thayer said Imokawa has been on supervised release for 16 months. He’s never missed a court appearance, and there’s no evidence he will re-offend.

Vu objected and said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Collier granted the defense’s request but ordered that Imokawa must post bail, which he set at $50,000, and he must continue to follow the conditions of his supervised release. Imokawa’s license was revoked, and he must undergo an aggressive-driver class. Restitution will be set at a later date.