John Cole Carlgren bowed his head and waited for Judge Christopher Brauer to pronounce a sentence.
Carlgren pleaded guilty earlier this month to recklessly causing the deaths of four people after he smashed into their car on Cabbage Hill while drunk. Jessie Cline, 29, William Johnson, 24, Fred A. Young, Jr., 31, and Michelle Marie Sawyer, 29, died in the Oct. 19 crash.
Brauer prefaced sentencing with a statement that left little doubt the punishment would be stiff for the Carlton man, who has four prior drunk driving convictions.
“You might as well have decided to juggle with nitroglycerin in a crowded theater wearing grease-covered gloves,” Brauer said, referring to Carlgren’s trip from Utah to Eastern Oregon with stops for six-packs of beer at markets along the way.
Carlgren didn’t seem surprised when Brauer finally rendered his sentence – 130 months for each manslaughter charge, to be served consecutively – 43 years and four months. Another year for driving while intoxicated will not add extra time to the sentence.
Under Ballot Measure 11 restrictions, Carlgren will not be eligible for release for 40 years.
“Mortality data demonstrates that you are likely to be confined in prison for the rest of your natural life,” Brauer told Carlgren.
At the beginning of the four-hour sentencing, prosecutor Dan Wendel, Umatilla County deputy district attorney, described the events leading up to the early-morning crash. From the gallery, the victims’ family members listened somberly.
Carlgren, Wendel said, had worked a 60-hour week, finishing a job for Chevron in Northern Utah. He changed, showered and checked out of his motel and started driving the 700 miles home. Receipts from the journey show he stopped at two stores along the way for six-packs of Coors he kept on ice.
Witnesses reported erratic driving by Carlgren.
Just east of Pendleton on Interstate 84, Carlgren crossed the fogline and plowed into the back of the victims’ red Beretta, stopped or nearly stopped on the shoulder. The car’s occupants died instantly.
Wendel flashed an image onto a screen.
“This is what happens to a 1991 Beretta when it is slammed into by Dodge Dakota pickup truck,” he said.
The misshapen hunk of metal only vaguely resembled a car.
“The wreckage of the Beretta was such that the victims could not be extracted from the scene,” Wendel said. “The car was loaded onto the back of a flatbed truck.”
One witness at the scene, Frank Moutray, reported that Carlgren walked around the scene, dazed and wondering why the car he hit had been stopped on the highway, rather than on the shoulder where investigators determined the car actually was.
“He walked over to the red vehicle and said, ‘What the (expletive deleted) were you doing parked in the middle of the road? That’s what you get,’” Moutray said in a statement to investigators.
A blood draw two hours later showed Carlgren’s blood alcohol level was .207 percent.
Carlgren’s attorney, Kent Fisher, didn’t gloss over his client’s horrible history, but said Carlgren wasn’t so much “raging and blaming” as trying to figure out what happened. The crash happened, Fisher said, after Carlgren reached for his cell phone.
“He was still trying to put the pieces together,” Fisher said.
He quoted Carlgren as later saying, “I’m heartbroken – I just killed four people.”
Wendel and his co-counsel, Deena Ryerson, called for a long sentence.
“This defendant begs for the court’s mercy,” Wendel said, “but the blood of the victims cries out for justice, blood spilled at Milepost 219.”
Family members also spoke to the judge and to Carlgren.
John Johson, the father of William Johnson, described his son as images glowed on the screen. The photos showed William playing sports, wearing a Donald Duck hat at Disneyworld and playing Twister, his favorite game.
Johnson offered forgiveness to Carlgren, while adding justice must be done.
“He was stolen from us that night,” he said.
Jason Young, brother of Fred Young, Jr., said his brother was fun-loving and caring. He was getting ready to marry another of the victims, Michelle Sawyer.
Young read an excerpt of Michelle’s last letter to Fred.
“I could spend the rest of my life in your arms,” Michelle wrote. “You take my breath away every time you glance my way.”
She signed the letter “The future Mrs. Michelle Young.”
Alan Cline, father of Jessie Cline, said Carlgren’s crime is worthy of serious punishment.
“This wasn’t an accident,” he said. “This was the inevitable.”
Michelle Sawyer’s 6-year-old daughter, Mickey Mouse doll under her arm, approached the judge with photos of her mom.
Carlgren watched with emotion. His attorney said his client has experienced “engulfing mental pain and anguish at the enormity of the damage and destruction he has caused.”
“He never designed this,” Fisher said. “It was never his intent.”
Carlgren, tears threatening, addressed the families.
“I am very sorry,” he said. “There are no words that I can say to bring back your loved ones.”
EXTRA – 43-year prison sentence for drunk driving may set Oregon record, KGW.com
EXTRA – Repeat drunken driver who killed four receives 43-year sentence, Oregonian July 24 2009
EXTRA – Drunk Driver Gets 43 Years In Prison, KEPRTV.com