Judge gives minimum jail time to driver in fatal auto accident

Court: Man was negligent, but driving was not out of the norm.

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2000

Trevor Church was sentenced this morning to two years in prison with 18 months suspended by Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks.

Church was originally charged with felony criminally negligent homicide and fourth-degree assault. He pleaded innocent in November, but pleaded no contest in March to criminally negligent homicide. The state dropped the assault charge. Six months in prison is the minimum sentence for this type of crime.

On Oct. 6, Church, 30, drove his truck through a red light on Glacier Highway and ran into a car driven by Andrew ``John'' Hope Jr. Hope, 76, died as a result of his injuries. Hope's third wife, Hazel, 57, was injured.

``There is no issue in my mind that you were negligent,'' Weeks said to Church.

However, Weeks added that the case ``troubled him'' since Church's not guilty plea, and he had driven the highway himself to check on the speed limit.

In order to judge Church guilty of negligent homicide, he would have to find that Church grossly deviated from societal norms. And he could not. ``I am confident that every person in this courtroom has run a red light,'' Weeks said. He noted alcohol was not involved, and Church immediately showed remorse.

Weeks acknowledged the tragedy of the death of Hope, ``a substantial member of the community.'' But he also acknowledged that Church had been a productive citizen of Juneau for 11 years, with no traffic convictions here.

In his pre-sentence comments, prosecutor David Brower mentioned a felony conviction 1989 in Washington state, where Church was convicted in absentia and a bench warrant issued for his arrest.

``If he is convicted of a felony in Washington,'' Brower said, ``I think the court should know.''

``I don't think it's a valid conviction in Alaska,'' Weeks commented, adding, ``It sounds like something that would happen in Iran.''

Church's attorney, public defender David Seid, said his client was not dangerous and did not need the isolation in jail. He argued for confinement in a half-way house, community work service, and unsupervised probation.

However, Weeks' sentence included two years of supervised probation, during which Church is to participate in psychological or psychiatric programming if it is arranged by his probation officer. Church was ordered to report to the Lemon Creek Correctional Center by 4:30 p.m. today.

The sentence was ``just about what I expected,'' said Percy Hope, Andrew Hope's younger brother.

Hazel Hope's brother, Al McKinley, was agitated by the sentence. While in the military, McKinley coordinated efforts with the FBI to track AWOL servicemen. He can't understand why Washington state didn't track down Church. ``In my opinion, his past should be investigated (and considered in the sentencing),'' McKinley said. ``It seems critical that his license was suspended for five years'' in Washington.

``Our people are looking into these things,'' added McKinley, a participant in a June 2 rally at Juneau's court building alleging inequities in Alaska's justice system for Natives.

Reached in Seattle at a daughter's home, Hazel Hope said, ``I just can't believe that guy (Church) can get away with such a crime.'' The prosecution consulted her about Church's plea bargain, but she was hoping for a more substantial sentence, she said.

Since the accident, Church said, she has had to hire people to drive her around Juneau. One of the ribs injured in the accident still bothers her, she said. ``To this day, I can't lay on it. And the two deep holes in my leg still sting and hurt.''

Hope said she hired Anchorage attorney Marc June ``right from the beginning'' to seek restitution in the case.

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