A Battle Ground man walked free Wednesday from Clark County Superior Court after reaching a conclusion in a turbulent 2015 vehicular homicide case.
Dean Imokawa, 52, pleaded guilty to a simple misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. He entered an “in re Barr” plea, meaning he pleaded guilty to the lesser related charge he didn’t commit to avoid the risk of conviction on a greater offense.
He was sentenced to credit for time served; Deputy Prosecutor Toby Krauel said Imokawa had spent 29 days in jail throughout the case.
According to court records and testimony at his 2017 trial, Imokawa made a lane change on the Salmon Creek Bridge on state Highway 503, and his pickup clipped the front right corner of the vehicle he was passing. His pickup lost control, crossed the median and entered the southbound lanes, where a southbound Kia Sorento struck it.
The April 2, 2015, crash resulted in the death of 86-year-old Eleanor Tapani of Battle Ground, a passenger in the Kia. Her daughter, Linda Dallum of Battle Ground, who was driving, suffered multiple fractured ribs and fractures to her right ankle, foot and kneecap.
In 2017, a jury found Imokawa guilty of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault with disregard for the safety of others. He was sentenced to two years and two months in prison.
Imokawa appealed his convictions, however, arguing that the jury instructions presented at trial violated his right to due process. In July 2018, the Washington Court of Appeals agreed and sent his case back to Superior Court for further proceedings.
The issue stemmed from the trial court judge denying Imokawa’s request to include a specific jury instruction that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the absence of an unforeseeable intervening cause of the deadly crash. At trial, his attorney argued Imokawa had enough space to make the lane change safely, but the other driver sped up to prevent him from passing, causing the crash.
Then, in November 2019, the Washington Supreme Court overturned the appeals decision, determining the jury was properly instructed, and reinstated Imokawa’s convictions.
In December 2019, Imokawa requested a new trial, arguing he received inadequate defense at trial, according to court records. He said he had a new expert opinion that the other driver sped up as he was changing lanes and that a police officer at the crash said Imokawa was “pitted” by the other driver. The prosecution agreed with Imokawa’s argument that the evidence should have been presented at trial, and the court vacated his convictions in March 2020.
In April, Judge Jennifer Snider found there was governmental misconduct in Imokawa’s prosecution. She did not dismiss the case against him because a retrial was already pending, according to court records and his attorneys.
Krauel, the prosecutor, told Snider on Wednesday that Dallum wanted closure in the case. He said Dallum wishes Imokawa well and that she has found her peace with the crash.
One of Imokawa’s attorneys, Mick Woynarowski, told the judge that Imokawa is ready to put this case behind him. In addition to jail time, he said Imokawa was impacted by the trauma of the crash and damage to his reputation in the community.
“A certain price has been exacted from him,” Woynarowski said in court.
Outside the courtroom, Imokawa’s other attorney, Anna Tolin, described the case as “a lengthy ordeal for him.”
“We’re grateful to have closure for him and for the Dallum and Tapani families as well,” she said.
Before granting the agreed-upon sentence, Snider said vehicle-related cases can be particularly difficult to litigate because “there’s a fine line between an accident and not an accident.”
She said this is a case she’ll talk about with her teenage children who are driving, because it serves as a reminder to remain diligent behind the wheel.
“It could be any of us out there on the road,” she said.