Walla Walla vehicular homicide suspect could get life sentence

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldApril 12, 2014 

A Walla Walla man could be looking at life behind bars for an October 2012 head-on crash that killed two of his passengers.

Henry Lee Thacker, 39, didn't give himself enough time to pass other westbound vehicles on Highway 12 near the Wallula Junction, according to court documents.

His decision to keep driving in the oncoming lane, even after entering a "no passing zone," forced at least three eastbound cars onto the shoulder to avoid being hit, documents said.

But when Lynda West came around a blind right-hand curve in her Dodge Intrepid, the Richland woman had no time to react before colliding with Thacker's Toyota Corolla, documents said.

Thacker has been charged in Walla Walla County Superior Court with two counts each of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault, all felonies.

The documents, filed by Prosecutor Jim Nagle, state that vehicular homicide carries a life sentence.

Thacker was sent a summons to appear in court April 21, but the letter was returned, possibly because of a bad address. That prompted Judge Scott Wolfram this week to issue an arrest warrant with $100,000 bail.

Nagle told the Herald that if they track down an updated address for Thacker, the warrant will be quashed once the summons is served.

One witness to the Oct. 5, 2012, wreck told Washington State Patrol investigators that the Toyota was in front of him when it pulled into the oncoming lane along with another vehicle and tried to pass westbound traffic. The first vehicle completed the pass, but Thacker's Toyota couldn't get back into the lane in time.

He started the maneuver in a legal passing zone, but continued into an area that was clearly marked by a solid yellow line in the center, investigators said.

Another witness reported seeing a car change lanes by crossing the centerline, then looking in his rearview mirror to see a car hood fly up in the air.

State Patrol Sgt. Mike Eggleston wrote that the 4:30 p.m. collision occurred because of Thacker's decision to pass other westbound vehicles "with insufficient time and safe distance to complete the pass with oncoming vehicles."

Thacker's Toyota was about 390 feet into the no-pass zone for westbound traffic when he crashed into the Dodge, documents said.

An off-duty Portland police officer didn't see the collision but told troopers he arrived right after. He saw steam rising from the cars. He checked the occupants of the two cars and all of them were wearing seat belts.

Thacker's front-seat passenger, Ruth E. Garcia, 36, of College Place, died at the scene from internal injuries.

A small dog that was in the Toyota also died in the wreck.

Angelique Garcia, 37, of Pasco, died 10 days later at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland. She was seated in the back on the right side of the Toyota.

Thacker and two other back-seat passengers -- Andres Medina-Garcia, 7, and Justino Garcia, 11 -- were also injured. Thacker and Andres were transferred to a Seattle hospital for more intensive treatment.

West, who was on her way to Walla Walla for a wedding rehearsal, suffered severe leg injuries from the impact. She was treated at Kadlec.

When a trooper contacted Thacker in a Kadlec exam room, the driver "was conscious but unresponsive to any questions," documents said.

A blood test showed Thacker did not have alcohol or drugs in his system at the time of the crash.

Thacker's criminal history includes ramming his truck into a Pasco patrol car and being fired at by an officer before driving his truck down a 20-foot embankment. Then, when left alone in a Kennewick Police Department interview room without handcuffs, he escaped from the building while wearing a hospital gown.

Thacker got a three-year, seven-month sentence for that case in Benton County Superior Court.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service