Man charged with vehicular homicide sentenced to time served

Leader news staff
news@ptleader.com
Posted 2/5/20

A Port Townsend man charged with vehicular homicide was sentenced with no additional jail time in Jefferson County Superior Court on Jan. 31.

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Man charged with vehicular homicide sentenced to time served

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A Port Townsend man charged with vehicular homicide was sentenced with no additional jail time in Jefferson County Superior Court on Jan. 31.

Patrick C. McConnell, 64, was charged with vehicular homicide for the death of 75-year-old architect Mark Henthorn in a car-bike collision on March 28, 2018.

A jury trial was originally set for Oct. 29, 2019, but a mistrial was declared after McConnell was hospitalized after a suicide attempt.

No new trial was set because McConnell entered into an Alford plea on Dec. 20— meaning he pled guilty to the charges but did not admit to criminal intent and asserted his innocence despite the plea.

Entering an Alford plea means the defendant admits the evidence presented by the prosecution would likely be enough to persuade a judge or jury to find him guilty.

Sentencing for his case took place in the morning on Jan. 31 before Judge Keith Harper.

At the sentencing trial, the state’s prosecuting attorney Julie St. Marie recommended no additional jail time be imposed because McConnell had no prior criminal history.

“The State believes that no deterrent or rehabilitative purpose would be served by additional jail time in this case,” wrote St. Marie in a memorandum filed Jan. 30. “The State agrees this case is a tragedy. In light of Mr. McConnell’s lack of criminal history and his accountability in terms of a felony conviction, a sentence of credit for time served is proportionate in this case … The State believes Mr. McConnell is not at risk of re-offending.”

The crash that killed Henthorn was McConnell’s first criminal offence. Based on an investigation by Port Townsend Police Officer Mark DuMond, McConnell was driving down 19th Street on March 28, 2018 and failed to see Henthorn riding just a few feet ahead of him in the bike lane. When McConnell made a right-hand turn onto Landes Street, he crossed the bicycle lane in front of Henthorn, causing Henthorn to strike McConnell’s car and suffer life-threatening injuries. Henthorn was airlifted to Harborview and later died from the injuries he sustained.

Toxicology reports showed McConnell had tested positive for gabapentin and marijuana.

According to his defense lawyer, Richard Davies, McConnell had suffered a debilitating neck injury at work 10 years prior to the accident.
“To manage the pain, he uses marijuana at night (with his doctor’s knowledge) and is always careful not to drive on it,” wrote Davies in a memorandum filed Jan. 27.

During the day, he wrote, McConnell takes gabapentin, a non-narcotic medication for nerve pain.

“Mr. McConnell has driven for years while taking gabapentin without so much as a traffic ticket,” Davies wrote. “Moreover, his doctor has no concerns about Mr. McConnell’s ability to drive while on gabapentin.”

A previous charge of driving under the influence was dismissed from McConnell’s case.

There were 17 letters submitted to the court prior to the sentencing hearing in support of McConnell from friends and former coworkers. He had worked at the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op, which is where he suffered his neck injury.

“The tragic accident that took a life should not be downplayed, but Pat’s suffering has been tremendous,” Diana Clausen wrote in a handwritten letter to Judge Harper. “He is a good person. It is my sincere belief that he has atoned for the error and will not be a harm to society.”

Mark Henthorn was well-known in Port Townsend for his artwork and his involvement with the city’s non-motorized transportation board. He spent his career as an architect, and was well known for his painting. He worked with pastels, watercolors and oils to paint landscapes of the outdoors. His art was displayed in galleries in Idaho, Montana, Colorado and in the Port Townsend Gallery and Northwind Arts Center.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 783 bicyclists killed in traffic crashes in the United States in 2017. Alcohol was involved in 37% of all fatal bicyclist crashes in 2017.

By law, bicycles on the roadway are vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities as motorized vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises car drivers to yield to bicyclists as they would to motorists and to not underestimate cyclists’ speed. This will help avoid turning in front of a bicyclist traveling on the road or sidewalk, often at an intersection or driveway.

Currently, a white bicycle adorned with flowers stands at the corner of 19th and Landes streets, marking the spot where Henthorn was injured, as both a sign of remembrance and a warning for drivers.

Ghost bikes like this one are a world-wide phenomenon to mark the spot of a car-bike accident where a cyclist has died. It’s a way of both remembering the lost biker while also reminding drivers to keep a watchful eye for all vehicles, both engine- and man-powered, that share the road.

“This case is a tragedy all the way around,” Davies said. “One man died and the other felt like it. Mr. McConnell grieves for Mr. Henthorn and his family’s loss every day.”

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