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News / Clark County News

Vancouver man who drove drunk gets nearly 8 years for crash that killed woman

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: October 2, 2023, 5:13pm

A Vancouver man was sentenced Monday to nearly eight years in prison in a 2021 drunken-driving crash that killed one passenger and injured another north of Hockinson.

Joseph C. Manson, 23, pleaded guilty Aug. 28 in Clark County Superior Court to vehicular homicide and vehicular assault, both under the DUI prong. He faced a sentencing range of 95 to 125 months in prison and 18 months of community custody, though the defense asked he be granted a mental health treatment sentencing alternative.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Luka Vitasovic argued against the sentencing alternative. He told the court toxicology testing found Manson had a blood-alcohol level of 0.199. In Washington, a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 is considered evidence of drunken driving.

“What was quite terrifying about that was there was admitted marijuana usage, as well,” Vitasovic said.

He said the surviving victim told law enforcement Manson had a cavalier approach to drinking and driving and had done it on multiple occasions.

Vitasovic acknowledged Manson may have mental health issues.

“But this is a case where we have an adult individual making adult choices, knowing of a risk and disregarding that risk, and as a result, we have somebody who is dead,” he said. Manson was also found to be using cocaine while his case was pending, Vitasovic said, and had his release revoked.

Manson’s defense attorney, Angela Avery, said her client has had mental health issues since he was a teen and was self-medicating.

Clark County sheriff’s deputies responded at about 2:30 a.m. Nov. 9, 2021, to a crash near the 21600 block of Northeast Risto Road. Investigators found a red Mazda 6 that “was nearly torn in half,” up against a tree at a curve in the road, according to a probable cause affidavit.

A passenger, identified as Samantha Smith, 22, was pronounced dead at the scene, the affidavit states.

Manson, identified as the driver, and another passenger, identified as Issiah Blocker, then 22, were taken to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver in critical condition.

Deputies observed the road was wet, and there were advisory signs warning of a curve in the road and speed of 35 mph. Investigators saw three beer cans around the crash scene, along with marijuana paraphernalia, court records state.

Blocker told deputies he was in the backseat, and Smith, Manson’s girlfriend, was in the front passenger’s seat. He said they went to a Vancouver bar, where they played pool, drank alcohol and used marijuana products, according to the affidavit.

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When they left, Blocker said he told Manson not to drive, but Manson insisted he could drive. He said after they left, they stopped and bought beer from a convenience store. They each opened them, Blocker said, and drank them on the drive, court records state.

Blocker told deputies he couldn’t remember anything about the crash or what led up to it. His medical records showed he suffered a fractured rib, lung contusion, laceration to his leg, sprained ankle and fractured elbow, the affidavit states.

During Monday’s hearing, the judge read statements from Smith’s family, and Smith’s father addressed the court.

“Do you know what I had to do yesterday?” Smith’s father asked Manson. “I visited a tree. I visited the tree where you killed my daughter. I talked to the lady who lives there. She said it sounded like a (expletive) explosion.

“I don’t see a bit of (expletive) remorse in your eyes.”

Manson told the court he’s been attending therapy while in the jail to deal with his grief and mental health issues.

“I have been grieving over Samantha’s death every day since the accident, almost two years now,” he said.

Judge Robert Lewis said he did not believe the mental health treatment alternative was appropriate for this case and ordered Manson serve the low end of his sentencing range.

“There is nothing I can say to make it easier on the family. There is no sentence I can impose to make it easier on the family, or you, frankly,” the judge told Manson.