Appeal from Superior Court of Snohomish County. Docket No: 96-1-00410-8. Date filed: 08/19/96. Judge signing: Hon. Gerald L. Knight.
Authored by Faye C. Kennedy. Concurring: Mary K. Becker, Ann L. Ellington.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kennedy
KENNEDY, A.C.J. -- Forty-four-year-old Patricia Baggs died in a one-car accident as a result of eighteen-year-old Jason Paul Hinds's reckless driving. Hinds had been drinking whiskey given to him by Baggs, and was driving Baggs's car with her permission. He pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and received an exceptional sentence downward. The court concluded that Baggs was a willing participant in the offense to a significant degree because she provided alcohol to Hinds and then allowed him to drive her car. We agree with the State that there must be a causal connection between Baggs's conduct of furnishing the liquor and allowing Hinds to drive her car and Hinds's recklessness, in order to support a Conclusion that she was a willing participant in the crime to a significant degree. We also agree that the court did not explicitly find the causal connection. Nevertheless, because support for such a connection exists in legislative policy, analogous case law, and, as conceded by the State during oral argument for this appeal, in the record, and because the trial court may have omitted an explicit finding based on a misunderstanding of the State's position with respect to that issue, we remand for clarification of the findings. If the court finds a causal connection between Baggs's conduct and Hinds's reckless driving, i.e., finds that both Baggs and Hinds participated in conduct that caused the vehicular homicide to occur, we affirm the exceptional sentence; if it does not, we reverse and require imposition of a standard range sentence.
On the night of the accident, Hinds, his 15-year-old sister Becky and several other teen-agers gathered at Baggs's home, where they drank liquor that Baggs provided and consumed with them. Baggs drove Hinds to her home.
Hinds later said that he had often consumed alcohol at Baggs's home and that he had been drinking since he was 16 years old. Becky left the party after a fight with her boyfriend. When she did not return, Hinds asked Baggs if she would help him look for her. Hinds and Baggs (Hinds was driving) drove around in Baggs's car for a while, then returned to her home to see if Becky had returned. Baggs went inside the house, came back to the car and said, "Let's go." Clerk's Papers at 47. Hinds later learned that Becky was at Baggs's home when Baggs went back inside, but said that Baggs did not tell him that Becky was there.
Hinds drove on a two-lane country road with a posted speed limit of 35 mph. He failed to stop at a stop sign while traveling at an estimated speed of 100 mph, and lost control of the car. The car became air-borne and eventually came to rest on its top, after striking a parked car and several trees. Baggs, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the vehicle. Her head struck a tree and she landed about 30 feet from the point of collision. Hinds, who wore a seat belt, suffered only minor injuries.
Several people heard the collision and came to assist. One person detected a slight odor of intoxicants coming from the car. Another heard Hinds talking and thought that he sounded like he was drunk. Hinds admitted to investigating officers that he had been drinking whiskey for 1 to 3 hours before driving. A sample of Hinds's blood taken nearly 2 hours after the accident revealed a blood alcohol level of .05.
The State charged Hinds with vehicular homicide, in violation of RCW 46.61.520(1)(b), for unlawfully operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner and causing the death of Patricia Baggs. Hinds pleaded guilty. In his plea statement, Hinds said that he drove Baggs's car "at her request."
Clerk's Papers at 84. He faced a standard range sentence of 21 to 27 months.
Hinds told the author of the pre-sentence report that the combination of worrying about Becky, "'a few shots'" of whiskey and the earlier consumption of several allergy pills contributed to his "'not totally coherent'" state of mind before the accident. Clerk's Papers at 47. He said that he thought he was traveling at the speed limit at the time of the crash.
Hinds's criminal history consisted of three traffic citations, two of which involved excessive speeding. In May 1994, he was cited for traveling 33 mph above the posted speed limit; in February 1996, he was cited for driving 31 mph above the posted limit. He paid fines for each ticket.
Baggs's husband Kenneth testified that Hinds was a good friend of the family. He said that an exceptional sentence below the standard range was appropriate and that there was no need to send Hinds to prison where he would become a "hardened, heartless person." Report of Proceedings at 14.
Baggs's daughter Cynthia concurred. She said that a prison term was not necessary because Hinds would not re-offend. She also said that a police officer had told her that Hinds told him that her mother "put the keys in his hand, and he told me he didn't even want to drive that night at all, but she forced the keys in [his] hand. And knowing my mom, she had a temper. She was probably yelling at him. I don't know." Report of Proceedings at 16.
Baggs's sister Carol Andrews wrote that she was angry with Kenneth Baggs for failing to intervene in the "madness that was going on in my sister's life with all the drinking and teenagers etc." Clerk's Papers at 29. She also wrote: "Jason was 18 I believe, and drunk from liquor supplied by my sister. I believe she coaxed him into drinking and driving fast. She often told me about driving fast in her 'fast car.'" Clerk's Papers at 30. Andrews suggested that ...