Drunk-driving conviction gets man one year for fatal crash

Manslaughter, reckless endangerment charges dropped in plea agreement

Posted: Sunday, May 25, 2003

A man accused of striking and killing another man as he walked down a Hoonah Highway in December was convicted Friday of misdemeanor drunken driving and sentenced to one year in prison.

Victim Gary Smith's family said a year in prison isn't enough punishment for Gerard White.

"There's not one second of one day I don't think of my dad," Smith's only daughter, Jolene, 22, testified. "He was the most nicest person in the whole world. He never bothered anybody.

"If the court gives Gerard White one year in prison, it's like slapping him on the wrist. It's like saying my dad's life meant nothing. But my dad's life meant the world to me. I don't know how to deal with this."

White, 44, pleaded guilty to drunken driving at a change of plea hearing in Juneau Superior Court.

He originally was charged with manslaughter, a felony, and reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. Both charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement between defense attorney David Mallet and District Attorney Rick Svobodny.

The charges stem from an offense of Dec. 8 during which White struck and killed Smith as he was walking down Garteeni Highway in Hoonah. An hour after the incident, White's blood alcohol level was 0.117 percent, according to court testimony. It is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.08 percent. The conviction was White's second for drunken driving.

White was sentenced at the same hearing as the plea was entered. As part of the plea agreement, he was sentenced to one year in prison, the maximum for a drunk driving conviction. He also was sentenced to alcohol treatment, a three-year driver's license revocation and $5,075 in fines and court fees.

Had he been convicted of manslaughter, White could have received up to 20 years in prison and up to one year in prison for the reckless endangerment charge.

No one testified on White's behalf at the hearing. White declined to testify at his hearing except to say, "Words can't describe what I feel about this case."

But Smith's mother, aunt and daughter, found words to describe how they felt about the incident and White's sentence during their 30 minutes of testimony. They said a year for "stealing" Smith from them wasn't close to the punishment White deserved.

Smith's mother, Diane Carrier, testified White has been drinking in bars and at parties since his release in December and has shown no remorse. White is prohibited from drinking as part of his conditions of release mandated by the court.

Mallet declined comment on whether White was drinking while on release and on the outcome of the case.

Svobodny said the state accepted the plea because there was a chance White could've been acquitted at trial due to a problem with "causation." According to the drunken driving laws, if a person is struck and killed in a drunken-driving accident, prosecutors must prove the accident directly caused the person's death. Prosecutors would have to show that, were the driver of the vehicle sober, the accident and the death would not have happened.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins ultimately accepted the plea and sentencing agreement.

"What's done cannot be undone," said Collins at the hearing. "No sentence will bring Mr. Smith back to his mother, his aunt and his daughter. They've painted a picture for me today of a kind, loving person. What you (White) do or don't do with your future life is your choice. Hopefully it will take the form of giving something back."

Melanie Plenda can be reached mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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