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Juneau man gets 6 years to serve for fatal car crash

Posted: May 1, 2013 - 12:06am
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Ryan W. West, 27, walks into Juneau Superior Court for his sentencing hearing on Tuesday. 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, walks into Juneau Superior Court for his sentencing hearing on Tuesday. 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 27-year-old Juneau man charged in connection to a fatal car crash out the road in 2011 was sentenced Tuesday to nine years in jail with three years suspended, which is six years to serve.

During the sentencing hearing in Juneau Superior Court, Ryan W. West apologized to the family of Gabriel Carte, the 19-year-old who died in the single-vehicle rollover crash on June 6, 2011, and asked for their forgiveness.

“There’s no words I can say that will ever bring him back, there’s not a day that goes by that I (don’t) miss him, that I wish he was here,” West said, adding, “I never meant to hurt Gabe, or anybody else around me.”

Judge Louis Menendez ordered West be on probation for 10 years after he is released from prison. West’s driver’s license will be revoked during those 10 years and he will not be allowed to drive.

Menendez told West he thought he was a danger to the public from behind the wheel and that isolation was one of his primary considerations for the sentence, the maximum of which could have been 10 years in prison.

“You put people in jail to isolate them from the public because they are a danger,” Menendez said. “Mr. West, you are a danger.”

Prosecutors originally charged West with second-degree murder, saying he showed an extreme indifference to human life. Prosecutors alleged West was speeding in his 1994 Dodge pickup truck after drinking a couple of beers, although blood alcohol tests taken at the crash scene showed West was not legally intoxicated. The attorneys stipulated the truck was traveling somewhere between 74 and 83 miles per hour in a 40-mile-per-hour zone when the driver lost control of the vehicle around a curve in the road near Mile 32 of Glacier Highway.

West pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of criminally negligent homicide, a class ‘B’ felony offense, earlier this year in February on the eve of trial. He was presumptive to serve four to seven years, but the judge found an aggravating factor that allowed him to impose a sentence above that range.

Throughout pretrial proceedings, West maintained he was not driving the truck at the time of the crash, rather Carte was. West claimed he was driving his truck when the two left Eagle Beach together, but that Carte asked West if he could drive, and that West pulled over on the side of the road and switched seats with Carte.

Judge Menendez told West that he firmly believed that claim to be a lie, and that West was lucky he was not charged with perjury for lying to the grand jury. District Attorney David Brower said he contemplated whether to bring a perjury charge, but ultimately decided against it when West pleaded guilty to the homicide charge.

West did not broach the issue of who was driving in his statement to the court, but did say he takes “full responsibility for why this all happened as I was the older adult in this accident” and that he “should have known better.”

Carte’s mother, April Horton, tearfully gave a statement to the court and said at first she was filled with anger and rage toward West, but that now, “I’m not sure how I’m feeling at this very moment because I’m not sure if it is still real.”

She speculated on why she thought her son got into West’s truck.

“I believe Gabe was trying to save you when he got into your vehicle,” Horton said. “He had just told me three hours before doing this that he was not going with you out the road. Only you, Gabe and God know the reason why.”

She added, “I believe pleading guilty for what you have done is a step forward, and I can only hope and pray that you will keep moving forward and get the help you need. Maybe you can come out of this and help the kids in this community who suffer with the same problems that you do.”

At the time of the crash, West was on probation from an earlier 2009 case, and he has since admitted to breaking probation by drinking two beers the night of the crash and then also for failing two drug tests in July of 2011.

On Tuesday, Judge Menendez accepted a plea deal that called for West to serve two years in jail for each of the two violations, with one year to run concurrent. That means the composite sentence is 36 months. West is receiving credit for time already served, and he has already served most or all of that time, Menendez noted.

West was on probation for seriously injuring a 19-year-old woman dragged by his truck in February 2009. 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.

West ended up pleading guilty to two charges in connection to the crime, 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), ordered to serve a year in jail for each count and was placed on probation for five years. Judge Menendez revoked the SIS on Tuesday.

Although a plea deal was in place, the attorneys did not agree on what sentence West should serve for criminally negligent homicide, leaving that decision up to the judge. District Attorney David Brower requested the maximum 10 years, while Assistant Public Defender David Seid requested four years in prison (plus the three years already served) for a composite sentence of seven years. Seid also proposed a mitigating factor to lessen the sentence, which the judge denied.

In his remarks, Menendez told West — a former Juneau-Douglas High School football star who has been outspoken about his descent into drug addiction — that eventually he will be out of prison, and that he must begin addressing his underlying issues. The judge told him to stop wasting his talent and to stop putting his own self-interests before others.

“You were elected captain of the football team, a group of young men believed in you as a leader,” Menendez said. “Perhaps that Mr. West is still out there somewhere. You’ve got to find him again.”

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

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