The insults done to the bodies of the five victims in the alcohol-fueled, 100-mph crash of Oct. 25, 2014, off Auburn Way South shocked and seared the senses.
So terrible was the scene that veteran first responders and police officers who testified at driver Nicholas Anderson’s four-week long trial said in all their years on the job they had never seen anything so bloody – indeed, they added, they could only liken the limb-and- internal-organ-strewn debris field to the aftermaths of airplane and train crashes.
A vehicle reconstructionist testified at trial that the totality of the forces created peeled the car open like a can of sardines, tore it in half, exposed the passenger side, and deposited bodies as it split across the bucket seats.
But if any of the assembled at Anderson’s sentencing Friday, March 31, at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent had imagined that the 40-year-old man might find within himself some genuine sorrow for the deaths of Andrew Tedford, 31, Caleb Graham, 23, Rehlein Stone, 21, or Suzanne McCay, 29, and the permanent impairment of James Vaccaro, 23, they left sorely disappointed.
“Your honor, I’ve been in jail for 861 days, for a crime I did not commit,” Anderson said.
Then followed a 20-minute address that summed to a retrying of the case, marinated in self pity and a sense of outraged justice at the unfair position he found himself in. No, he argued, in a narrative that over time has shifted the finger of blame to others in the car, he was not driving at the time of the crash because he had earlier exchanged seats with Tedford.
He said that the five passengers, including Graham, who had pleaded with him in the moments before the crash to “slow down, slow down, slow down,” and all of whom had sought him out as a designated driver that night, were willing participants in the events that led to their deaths.
Perhaps the most cringe-worthy moment came when the only other being in the car Anderson expressed palpable sorrow for, besides himself, was his chihuahua, Pedro, which had to be euthanized.
“I’m at a loss for so much. I lost my dog. … Now, I may not have children, but Pedro was my child,” Anderson said, turning briefly to a courtroom filled with friends and family on both sides of the tragedy.
Superior Court Judge Cheryl B. Carey wasn’t buying any of it.
Following the recommendation of Prosecuting Attorney Amy Freedheim, Carey imposed an exceptional, aggregate, 50.3-year sentence on the Des Moines man, well beyond the standard sentencing range 258 to 328 months.
“This was a catastrophic event that resulted in extraordinary violence that shocked not only the consciences of the veteran responders, but shocked the consciousness of all the other veteran witnesses,” Carey said before imposing a sentence she said was supported by “substantial and compelling reasons.”
A jury on March 3 found Anderson guilty of four counts of vehicular homicide (DUI), one count of vehicular assault (DUI), one aggravated count related to the vehicular assault and one count of reckless driving.
Graham’s father, George Graham, said that as a Christian he forgave Anderson, then talked about his late son.
“I know he would have never willingly gotten into a vehicle thinking this was going to be the end of his life. And I know that the tragedy is that you weren’t even able to say over the phone, ‘Hey, I’ve had too much to drink,’” said George Graham.
Seth Graham, Caleb Graham’s brother, was not so quick to forgive.
“All I want to say is I want an apology, but it’s probably not going to happen. I won’t say I have forgiven you, but it saddens me that my brother will never get to meet my daughter,” the younger Graham said.
Speaking for her son was Diane Anderson, who recalled that when she and her husband adopted Nicholas at ninth-months old from a foster home in Oregon, he was a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome and almost totally deaf. But, she continued, he grew into a boisterous, happy adolescent.
She blamed his drinking and pot-smoking habits on poor influences in the U.S. Air Force.
“I don’t think jail is the right place for him,” Anderson said. “He likes people, he gets along with people, he has long-term friends and family. He also has nieces and nephews that will not know him growing up. We miss him, but as horrendous as this accident was, I don’t think (jail is) the right answer.”
“This was not just a DUI,” Freedheim said. “This was a tremendous crash that affected first responders and everybody who had to see the photos of it. … The injuries to Andrew Tedford were enormous, and shocking. … In my career doing vehicular homicides, I have rarely come across a crash of such magnitude and such destruction. And that destruction was due to the reckless nature of (Anderson’s) driving.
“It is offensive … that he would blame the victims for this crime, and say that they were willing participants. There is no good-faith basis for arguing that there is any evidence to show that any of these victims fall close to the category of willing participants,” Freedheim said.
According to trial testimony, here is what happened that fatal morning.
Anderson, had taken a friend’s Nissan without permission the night before, and under the influence of alcohol and pot, was driving it at an estimated 100 miles per hour in a posted 35-mph zone just before 2 a.m. when he lost control of the vehicle, left Auburn Way South, slammed into a tree and mowed down three utility boxes.
Valley Com dispatched Auburn Police officers to the 3700 block of Auburn Way South in response to multiple reports of a car into a tree.
What the first officer found, according to police, was a white Nissan facing northwest in an embankment on the north side of Auburn Way South, with “total catastrophic damage” to its interior and undercarriage. Only the driver’s seat had been spared.
According to police, the violence of the collision uprooted a tree 18 inches in diameter that was lying on the ground, knocked over three power boxes and dislodged two guy wires stabilizing a power pole.
According to police, the front end of the vehicle was separated from the trunk, with only the driver’s door lock holding the two pieces together. The vehicle’s interior flooring had broken apart.
The officer found Anderson sitting on the ground among the bodies. According to police, the officer caught a strong odor of intoxicants on Anderson and found his speech slurred and his appearance impaired. Medics performed a blood draw.
According to police, Anderson admitted to the officer at a post-Miranda interview that he had taken the Nissan from his roommate, Michael Powers, that evening and driven to Enumclaw to pick up Stone because she had called him for a ride, possibly to her mother’s house in Auburn. According to police, at that point he said that he remembered nothing else and refused to talk any further.
Anderson is a repeat DUI offender and a convicted felon. His history in Washington lists malicious mischief and reckless driving. Elsewhere his history lists a DUI in Eugene, Ore., and a habitual traffic offender-moving violation in Ocala, Fla.
“This selfish, irresponsible, narcissistic, adult male … killed these four young people and caused permanent brain damage to a fifth, by himself, and continues to deny it, and given his DUI history, there is no way that he is safe,” Freedheim said.