This Benton Co. judge was 'crouched and hiding' after his DUI crash. Now he's apologized in court

A Benton County judge arrested last month for drunken driving claimed he had been checking his mail when he was found crouching behind a cluster of mailboxes.

Judge Terry M. Tanner later told a sheriff's deputy he had no memory of crashing his sedan on his way home from a Kennewick bar, and said his mailbox actually was about a block up the rural road.

On Friday, the elected Benton County District Court judge pleaded guilty to one gross misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence.

In a statement he read during the eight-minute hearing, Tanner apologized to his family, the court, law enforcement and the people of Benton County for his "poor decision" on March 6.

"I am grateful for the professionalism shown by law enforcement and further grateful that no person or property was injured," said Tanner. "I vow to ensure that nothing like this happens in the future and will do everything I possibly can to ensure that."

The case was moved to Yakima County District Court to prevent any conflict within Tanner's own court or with the prosecutors who regularly come before him.

Terry Tanner
Judge Terry Tanner File

He appeared before Judge Kevin Roy.

It is not yet known how intoxicated Tanner was that night when he crashed his Cadillac ATS into a decorative rock wall off the road near the Tripple Vista Estates sign in Badger Canyon.

A prosecutor told Judge Roy on Friday that Tanner's toxicology results are still pending and aren't expected back from the state crime lab for a while. Tanner did not do a breathalyzer test that night, so his blood was drawn to check the alcohol level.

"As a judicial officer, I know my lapse in personal judgment was wrong. But, like all people, I do make human mistakes," Tanner said. "This act does not define who I am, but is a hurdle and challenge in my life that will be dealt with in a direct and straightforward manner."

"Ultimately, with hard work and dedication, I will use this to make myself a better person and to become a better judge," he continued.

Tanner, in thanking everyone who has supported him over the past month, said he "will not let you down."

He was sentenced to 364 days in county jail with 363 days suspended. The one day was converted to 15 days on electronic home monitoring, which must be completed by June 22.

He also is on supervision for five years. He can petition to have that terminated after two years if he completes the probation requirements and stays out of trouble in that time.

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Benton County sheriff's deputies found District Court Judge Terry Tanner's car March 6, 2018, when they responded to a report of a crashed car.

Tanner's driver's license is suspended for one year as a result of the DUI conviction. However, he can get an ignition interlock license, which requires the breathalyzer device to be installed on each vehicle he owns.

His attorney, Scott Johnson, said the judge did not receive any special treatment and was sentenced to the state-mandated guidelines for a first-time offender.

The state's Commission on Judicial Conduct will move forward with its own investigation into the sitting judge's criminal case, which is a violation of ethical canons.

The independent agency works to protect the integrity of the judicial process and promote public confidence in the courts by enforcing ethics rules for judges.

The lowest form of sanction for a judge convicted of DUI is a reprimand.

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Benton County sheriff's deputies found District Court Judge Terry Tanner's car March 6, 2018, crashed into a rock display at the corner South Cantera Street and South Clodfelter Road in rural Benton County.

Tanner returned to the bench March 8, one day after he was charged and made his first appearance before a judge while still in custody. He was locked up for about 11 hours after his arrest.

Tanner, a former Richland city councilman, was appointed to District Court in 2009. He is up for re-election this year.

District court judges make $161,092 a year. Benton County taxpayers pay his salary.

Details of what happened late March 6 are revealed in the Benton County Sheriff's Office's investigative reports, obtained as part of a public records request by the Tri-City Herald.

A witness came upon Tanner's crashed sedan at 11:18 p.m. and, in checking on the occupants, saw a man sleeping in the driver's seat. The witness called 911.

Deputy Elias Perez called the witness while driving to the collision. The witness whispered over the phone that he believed the driver was drunk.

By the time Perez arrived, Tanner had exited his car and walked away from Clodfelter Road and Cantera Street.

Tanner was found "crouched and hiding behind a mailbox."

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Benton County sheriff's deputies say they found District Court Judge Terry Tanner hiding behind these mailboxes March 6, 2018, when they responded to a report of a crashed car. Benton County Sheriff's Office

Perez wrote that when he lit up the area from his patrol car, Tanner stumbled out onto the roadway and faced the community mailboxes, attempting to open one box with a set of keys.

It looked as if Tanner was having trouble and, when asked what was going on, Tanner replied, "Just checking the mail," Perez said.

Deputy Randy Loyd said he got there at 11:40 p.m. and immediately noticed that Tanner was only wearing jeans and a polo shirt in 30-degree weather.

Perez advised him that Tanner is a Benton County judge, and they called Sgt. Jason Erickson to help at the scene.

"As I stood speaking with Tanner, I saw his eyes were bloodshot and watery, and he was slurring his speech," Loyd said in a recorded phone conversation with a judge. He was applying for a warrant to draw Tanner's blood. "He had an overwhelming odor of intoxicants coming from him as he spoke. He was swaying from side to side and would grab a hold of the mailbox or nearby patrol vehicle to steady himself."

Tanner explained he "had a few drinks" while watching a Gonzaga University basketball game at Buffalo Wild Wings.

"Tanner stated he did not remember being in a collision but would have been wearing a seat belt because he always does. Tanner informed me he was not injured," according to Loyd's written report. "I asked Tanner if the mailboxes we were standing by were his. He told me his mailbox was the next set up the road."

Tanner declined to perform standard field sobriety tests. He was placed in handcuffs at 12:04 a.m. and driven to Trios Southridge Hospital, then taken to the jail.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531, @KristinMKraemer