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Sentencing delayed for man charged in connection to 2011 fatal car crash

Posted: April 15, 2013 - 12:28pm  |  Updated: April 15, 2013 - 11:03pm
Ryan W. West, 27, appears in Juneau Superior Court for a sentencing hearing on Monday. In February West pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide for his involvement in the fatal car crash on Glacier Highway last summer that killed Gabriel Carte, 19.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Ryan W. West, 27, appears in Juneau Superior Court for a sentencing hearing on Monday. In February West pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide for his involvement in the fatal car crash on Glacier Highway last summer that killed Gabriel Carte, 19.

The sentencing hearing for Ryan W. West was cut short Monday as a judge needed more time to determine whether West has one prior felony conviction, or two.

After hearing arguments from attorneys, who both agreed West only has one prior felony, Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez requested they submit additional written briefs on the matter before he makes a ruling. He scheduled a status hearing to be held in the case on Friday.

The number of past convictions determines what range of imprisonment a defendant is presumptive to serve. In this case, if it is decided West has one prior felony, he will be presumptive to serve four to seven years in prison; two prior felonies means West will be presumptive to serve a lengthier range of six to 10 years.

The 27-year-old pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide earlier this year for his role in a single-vehicle rollover crash out the road that killed 19-year-old Gabriel Carte on June 6, 2011.

At the time of the crash, West was on probation from an earlier 2009 case for seriously injuring a 19-year-old woman dragged by his truck. According to prosecutors at the time, the woman handed West money to buy oxycontin as he was sitting in the driver’s seat of his truck. Intending to rip her off, West counted the money then sped away without giving her the drugs.

Then-District Attorney Douglas Gardner wrote in an affidavit that the woman held onto the truck as it accelerated out of a parking lot and that West ignored her pleas for help. She fell off after traveling about a block, and she sustained a serious head injury that required her to be medevaced to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Originally facing more serious charges, West ended up pleading guilty to two reduced felony charges of second-degree theft and duty of an operator to give information and render assistance, which is another way of saying failure to render aid after an accident.

He received a suspended imposition of sentence (SIS) and was ordered to serve a year in jail for each count as a condition of probation.

Judge Menendez said he is concerned that state statutes are up for interpretation on whether that should count as one prior conviction or two. He read aloud one of the relevant statutes, which says, “Two or more convictions arising out of a single, continuous criminal episode during which there was no substantial change in the nature of the criminal objective are considered a single conviction unless the defendant was sentenced to consecutive sentences for the crimes.”

Both District Attorney David Brower and Assistant Public Defender David Seid argued in court Monday that should be considered one prior felony since it was for the same criminal conduct. Plus, they added, even though West served jail time for the 2009 case, he was never technically sentenced because the imprisonment was a condition of his probation, not necessarily a sentence.

Seid said his client would withdraw his guilty plea if the judge decides West has two prior felonies, and is therefore presumptive to serve a lengthier jail sentence.

“If the court thinks this is the right reading (of the statutes), then we’re sort of wasting our time here right now because Mr. West was advised both by counsel with the agreement of the prosecutor and by the court about what this presumptive range is before he made that decision to change his plea and go through with it,” Seid said. “... There’d be a manifest injustice if this is indeed true, that he was misadvised on what his presumptive term is. We’re not talking about some little collateral effect.”

West was slated to stand trial for Carte’s death in February, but he took a plea deal at the last minute. He was originally charged with second-degree murder, which can carry up to 99 years in prison.

Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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