A Benton City man admitted Thursday that he was driving under the influence of methadone when his truck slammed into a motorcycle, critically injuring both riders.
Chad Michael Sehnert's actions July 21 caused one of the Prosser motorcyclists to lose both of his legs, while the man's girlfriend had a leg amputated.
Sehnert, 34, entered an Alford plea in Benton County Superior Court to two counts of vehicular assault with aggravating circumstances for the excessive injuries to Joe Toregrase and Janice Rennebohm.
The Alford plea means he denied committing the crime but believed prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him.
Sehnert, in his plea statement, said he was taking advantage of the prosecutor's plea offer because he didn't want to risk a harsher penalty if the case went before a jury.
He also pleaded guilty to a January 2011 case for attempting to elude police, a felony, and DUI, a gross misdemeanor. Sentencing is set for Jan. 26.
The sentencing range for vehicular assault is one year and 10 months to two years and five months.
Deputy Prosecutor Megan Killgore said she plans to recommend a two-year prison term, which will be served at the same time as the attempted eluding case, and treatment for Sehnert's prescription drug addiction.
According to police and court documents, Toregrase and Rennebohm were on their way home after having dinner at a friend's house last July when they were hit on the Old Inland Empire Highway, just east of Knox Road.
Rennebohm called dispatchers to say she had just been hit by a vehicle and was on the side of the road. Rennebohm was riding on the back of Toregrase's Harley-Davidson Road King.
Deputies were responding when dispatchers got a report from OnStar that an airbag had deployed in a truck and the driver was not responding.
OnStar, a security and emergency communications system in GMC vehicles, reported the incident was in the same area as the motorcycle crash.
Sehnert's 2012 GMC truck was found in the eastbound lane of the highway. He reportedly told deputies he had been in a crash with another vehicle that took off, but the investigation revealed his truck had crossed the centerline and hit Toregrase's motorcycle in the westbound lane, documents said.
After the collision, Sehnert's truck went almost a mile before stopping. A gouge on the road led from the collision scene where the motorcycle was in the ditch to Sehnert's truck.
The couple was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle to be treated.
Toregrase, 46, had his legs amputated, his spleen removed and suffered several broken bones, court documents said.
Rennebohm, 62, had her left leg amputated and suffered a broken pelvis and arm, documents said.
An officer trained as a drug recognition expert said after the crash that Sehnert was under the influence of a narcotic analgesic and central nervous system depressant. Sehnert showed multiple signs of impairment, including swaying from side to side and being unsteady on his feet, and repeatedly fell asleep during the seated portions of the test.
A blood test later showed that Sehnert had methadone in his system, Killgore told the judge Thursday.
Methadone is used to relieve moderate to severe pain.
During an earlier incident, Sehnert told Benton County sheriff's deputies that he previously had been injured and took a number of pain medications.
Deputies received a call Jan. 29 about a suspicious driver and spotted Sehnert speeding and tried to stop him.
Sehnert drove on the shoulder and cross the centerline several times while officers pursued him, court documents said.
Officers used a spike strip acrossthe road to try to stop Sehnert's vehicle. He continued driving, finally losing the back tire so the truck was driving on the rim.
Deputies followed Sehnert for 10 miles before the truck finally stopped. Sehnert then failed to follow their commands and was bitten by a police dog.
Deputies didn't smell alcohol, but saw an empty prescription bottle next to him, documents said.
Sehnert refused to complete an impairment evaluation, but officers did draw his blood for testing, court documents said. A drug recognition expert said his eyelids were droopy, his speech slurred and raspy, and Sehnert appeared very relaxed, documents said.
Sehnert's plea statement Thursday acknowledged that he was driving recklessly when he tried to evade by police and that he was under the influence of a prescription drug.