A Kennewick woman sentenced Tuesday to 7 1/2 years in prison tearfully told the judge she wishes she could bring back the man she killed in a 2010 reckless driving crash.
Lori Ann Christensen pleaded guilty earlier to vehicular homicide for the death of Orlando Abarca-Rivera.
On Tuesday, Judge Bruce Spanner noted Christensen's "lengthy history of substance abuse problems," but decided to go along with the recommended term for the Franklin County Superior Court case.
"You're learning kind of late that there are consequences to what we do," Spanner said.
Christensen, 48, was driving recklessly without considering the safety of other motorists on Sept. 24, 2010, when she slammed head-on into another car, killing Abarca-Rivera of Pasco.
Christensen also had been accused of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the 5:30 a.m. wreck, but that element of the charge was dropped by prosecutors in exchange for her guilty plea.
According to police and court documents, Christensen was behind the wheel when she pulled out of the Motel 6 parking lot onto Oregon Avenue.
She crossed the double yellow center line and hit Abarca-Rivera's car.He died at the scene.
Christensen told police at the scene that she had drank a couple of beers the night before, documents said. A firefighter at the scene also reportedly told Washington State Patrol troopers he could smell alcohol on her.
Christensen said she was late for work delivering newspapers for her husband, who was an independent contractor for the Tri-City Herald.
The 35-year-old Abarca-Rivera was the only occupant of the car and was on his way to work.
His brother, Marcos Abarca-Rivera of Kennewick, attended Tuesday's hearing along with two of the victim's nieces. They opted not to address the court.
"Your honor, I'd just like to say that I want to tell the family that I'm truly sorry that this happened," Christensen said while wiping away tears.
She also apologized to her own mother.
Defense lawyer Bob Thompson asked Spanner to follow the recommendation, saying there was an extensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash, along with lengthy negotiations with prosecutors.
"I thank the state for giving us the opportunity to do the work that we need to do," Thompson said, acknowledging that there essentially was a reduction of his client's charge when it was amended from alcohol-related to reckless.
"This was a situation, frankly, where two feet one way or another my client could be deceased," he added.
Thompson called it a "terrible tragedy" and said Christensen has been remorseful throughout the case for the Abarca-Rivera family's loss.
The standard range for the crime, based on Christensen's history, is seven years and three months to nine years and eight months.
Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn said 71/2 years is appropriate given Christensen's medical condition, though the particulars weren't given. He added that if it weren't for her criminal history, she would have completed the sentence already while awaiting trial.
Hultgrenn told the court that he spoke with Abarca-Rivera's family about the sentence and they didn't have an objection to it.
"We do want to be clear that fault does rest with Ms. Christensen. She was the one who crossed the center line and struck this car," he said.
There may have been mitigating factors for the defense, including Christensen's health, but ultimately those didn't change the fact she was responsible for what happened that morning, Hultgrenn said.
Christensen's record includes nine felony convictions for possession or delivery of a controlled substance. Those cases occurred between 1986 and 2005 in Benton and Franklin counties.
She was on community supervision for an earlier conviction when she committed the vehicular homicide. That added a point to her offender score, which affects the standard sentencing range.
Judge Spanner ordered that she participate in any "crime-related treatment or counseling services" ordered by the state Department of Corrections, not consume alcohol and not unlawfully possess, deliver or use any controlled substances without a valid prescription.
Christensen must pay $5,750 to the Crime Victims Compensation Program in Olympia, and $1,245 to the victim's brother for funeral expenses not covered by the program.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org