The brother of a man killed in a hit-and-run in September told the driver, as she awaited sentencing Wednesday, that she’s been given “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“You can change. Anybody can do it. I’ve done it. I had to wait until I was old,” Kash Sawyer said. “Turn it around, kid. You can do it.”
As Sawyer spoke about his past incarceration, 22-year-old Harley Marie Anderson, seated in a jail booth seen via Zoom, wiped tears from her face.
Anderson pleaded guilty to amended charges of vehicular homicide caused by disregarding the safety of others and hit-and-run resulting in death. She was sentenced to 50 months, or about four years, in prison in the death of 56-year-old Thomas Sawyer.
“Tom was my little brother, and he didn’t wake up this morning. He’s in a little box in my trailer. He was the last living relative I had,” Kash Sawyer told the court.
Clark County Superior Court Judge Jennifer Snider said Sawyer’s statement hit her hard.
“You have another opportunity that his brother doesn’t have due to your actions. This doesn’t have to define you for the rest of your life. You can take that advice that Kash gave you and get something out of this experience,” Snider told Anderson before handing down her sentence.
According to the prosecution, at the time of the Sept. 2 crash, Anderson had a pending case in Clark County District Court for driving under the influence and bail jumping. About a month prior to the crash, she received an open-container infraction.
Deputy prosecutor Jessica Smith said Anderson was traveling 62 mph in a 35-mph zone when the crash occurred. A witness said they saw the driver throw a beer bottle out of the window as she fled.
“When you get out, you need to stay away from alcohol. You and alcohol don’t mix,” Snider told Anderson, who was ordered to undergo a substance-abuse evaluation and any recommended treatment. Her driver’s license will also be revoked.
Vancouver police were called at about 6:40 p.m. for an injury crash at East Mill Plain and Grand boulevards. It was reported that a light-colored SUV had struck a pedestrian and then sped away, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
Responding officers found Thomas Sawyer lying in the middle of the westbound lanes of Mill Plain on the northwest corner of the intersection, the affidavit says. He suffered significant injuries to his head and body, police said, and was taken to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, where he later died.
Witnesses told police Sawyer was in the crosswalk on the east side of the intersection when the westbound SUV struck him. The SUV continued west and did not return to the scene, court records state.
Video surveillance obtained from a nearby gas station and C-Tran bus stops captured the GMC Envoy, with damage to the front passenger’s-side fender, fleeing the scene. Police also found the passenger’s- side mirror and other parts of the vehicle at the scene, according to court documents. Police released the vehicle information to the public and received a number of tips.
On Sept. 3, police searched the neighborhoods surrounding the crash scene and found the suspect vehicle parked in the front yard of a house in the 1100 block of East 40th Avenue. They contacted the residents who said the vehicle belonged to their roommate, Anderson, the affidavit states. She was not home at the time.
On Sept. 10, police contacted Anderson’s father and brother, who both said she admitted to being the driver in the fatal crash. Her brother said she told him “she was driving around the corner, it was too bright, she couldn’t see, she didn’t know what she hit until she got to the house,” according to the affidavit.
That same day, a 911 caller, identified as Braden Branch, reported that Anderson was posting about the crash on Facebook and messaging him about it.
“If I don’t respond within the next few days, imma miss you all. Forever scream #FreeHarley2020. God I’m so so so sorry for this. It was all an accident. I’m scared. I didn’t wanna run, but I will make my amends …” Anderson posted on Facebook, according to the affidavit.
In the message exchange, Branch asked Anderson why she didn’t stay to help after the crash, to which she replied she was scared and didn’t know what she had hit at first. Branch urged her to turn herself in, court records say.
Clark County sheriff’s deputies located Anderson on Sept. 11 riding in a stolen car near Northeast 29th Avenue and Northeast 170th Street. Vancouver police responded to arrest her.
During Wednesday’s hearing, defense attorney John Terry told the court that according to the evidence, cameras in the area did not show whether the traffic light was green for Anderson, but investigating officers concluded it was. Still, Anderson was speeding, he said, and if she had been traveling slower, she may have been able to stop in time.
He argued that Sawyer’s death would not necessarily have been avoided if Anderson stopped at the scene, as several Samaritans rendered aid.
“In Harley’s case, she was scared, young and immature,” Terry said. Her guilt prompted her to confess to her father and friends, and post it on Facebook, he said.
When given the chance to speak, Anderson said: “I just want to say that I’m sorry for my actions.”