Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Feb. 18, 2020

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Man in fatal Battle Ground crash gets nearly 8 years in prison

He pleads guilty to vehicular homicide; motorcyclist died

By , Columbian breaking news reporter
Published:

A Vancouver man convicted in a fatal crash involving a motorcyclist in Battle Ground was sentenced Wednesday to nearly eight years in prison.

Daniel Scott Berry, 34, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide Oct. 30 in Clark County Superior Court. Berry agreed to the sentence as part of a plea deal with the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. His standard sentencing range fell between nearly eight years and more than 10 years.

Shortly after 8 a.m. July 8, emergency crews were dispatched to the intersection of Southwest 10th Avenue (state Highway 503) and Eaton Boulevard for a vehicle versus motorcycle crash. John A. Christianson, 58, of Ridgefield, was injured and died two days later.

A white 1992 Lexus sedan, driven by Berry, crashed into an Indian motorcycle, driven by Christianson, according to police. Debris also struck two nearby vehicles. Christianson was taken to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, where he was later taken off life support.

Through interviews with witnesses from several vantage points at the intersection, Clark County sheriff’s deputies determined that Berry was driving recklessly before the crash. He was traveling north on 10th Avenue, and despite all other vehicles being stopped, failed to stop at the red light at Eaton Boulevard, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Bergyn Tumlinson told deputies she had been following Christianson east on Eaton Boulevard since Northeast 50th Avenue. Christianson was stopped at the red light at the intersection about a minute before the light turned green, and he gradually proceeded forward, she said. A Lexus going “very fast” did not stop for the red light, Tumlinson said, according to the affidavit.

Berry, who was alone in the car, did not report any injuries from the crash. He remained on scene and was cooperative with investigators, police said. He told investigators his light was green, and there were no cars stopped at the intersection, according to the affidavit.

“He was stating he believed the collision was the motorcyclist’s fault,” the affidavit reads.

Berry said he was headed to his residence in Yacolt from a friend’s house in Vancouver, though a Clark County Jail booking sheet listed him at a Vancouver address. He said he was not tired or distracted while driving.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu previously said that impairment did not appear to be a factor in the fatal crash. But in 2002, when he was 16, Berry lost control of a car east of Orchards and careened into a ditch, according to Columbian archives.

At sentencing Wednesday, Vu said Berry caused a four-vehicle crash last year when he fell asleep at the wheel, one of four crashes since 2016 leading up to the fatal incident.

During the hearing, Berry said he had fallen asleep in the moments before the fatal crash, apparently contradicting his initial statements to investigators.

“We all sometimes fall tired behind the wheel, and I failed to grasp the extent of my fatigue,” Berry said.

Berry said he regrets the crash and has not been able to stop thinking about it.

“These last four months have been some of the hardest of my life, though I know I’m not alone,” Berry said, referring to Christianson’s family. “I would give anything to take it back, but I can’t.”

Vu said that 27 people submitted witness impact statements to Judge Gregory Gonzales prior to sentencing. Five family members and friends spoke during the hearing.

“All lives have value. All lives matter,” Vu said. “In this case, John Christianson mattered to a lot of people.”

Family and friends who spoke on behalf of Christianson remembered him as caring, humorous, helpful, hardworking, quiet, humble and generous. They provided Gonzales with photos of Christianson, one of which was displayed facing the crowded courtroom gallery.

Christianson, a longtime Clark County resident, was director of engineering and operations at Trail Tech, a Polaris subsidiary in Battle Ground, according to his family. He was commuting to work at the time of the crash.

“John’s employees trusted him and felt good about the work they were doing, confident in the course they set,” said Steve Elgee, who knew Christianson for 20 years and worked with him. “His loss shook the foundation of our small satellite office from the manufacturing floor to the leadership team.”

Heather Gordon, Christianson’s widow, said they had been married nearly 33 years before the crash.

“John’s loss is still indescribable to me,” Gordon said. “He’s as real to me now as he was for the 33 years I shared my life with him, and now he’s gone.”

Therese Lavallee, Berry’s court-appointed attorney, said her client contested several claims in the victims’ impact statements that indicated Berry was not remorseful about the incident. Gonzales repeatedly interrupted family and friends of Christianson’s when they attempted to speak about Berry on Wednesday.

Gonzales said Berry appeared to be remorseful. However, he said he didn’t want to excuse Berry’s actions and that the world was “lessened” by Christianson’s death.

“You will live with this for the rest of your life. There’s no doubt about it,” Gonzales told Berry. “This gentleman was an outstanding gentleman that you killed.”

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