This grandfather had lots of life still to live. A Tri-Cities drunk, wrong-way driver cut it short

Pasco man apologizes to family of man he killed driving drunk

Gregorio J. Chayrez Jr. apologizes to family members of the Yakima man he killed while driving drunk on Interstate 182 in Richland. His sentencing was in Benton County Superior Court for the May 2018 death of Norman “Dale” Simpson Jr.
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Gregorio J. Chayrez Jr. apologizes to family members of the Yakima man he killed while driving drunk on Interstate 182 in Richland. His sentencing was in Benton County Superior Court for the May 2018 death of Norman “Dale” Simpson Jr.

The spring of 2018 was supposed to be a happy time for Norman “Dale” Simpson Jr.

His son was about to graduate high school, and his wife and daughter were coming to town for the occasion.

But the 55-year-old Yakima grandfather never got to see the teen receive his diploma.

Just minutes after leaving the Pasco train station on his way home, Simpson’s car was hit by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 182 near Richland’s Wellsian Way.

Simpson died immediately.

The other driver, Gregorio J. Chayrez, had a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit. He says to this day he has “absolutely no memory of the events that transpired that morning.”

On Monday, Chayrez, now 30, was ordered to serve eight years and 10 months in prison for vehicular homicide.

Devastated by his dad’s sudden death on Memorial Day, Jared Dale Simpson couldn’t walk through the commencement ceremony with his class days later. He quit, gave up on everything, he says.

Jared Simpson, the son of Norman "Dale" Simpson Jr. of Yakima, speaks at the sentencing for Gregorio J. Chayrez Jr. of Pasco in Benton County Superior Court. Chayrez was sentenced to 8 years and 10 for the drunk driving death.

But this week, Jared Simpson said he eventually got his diploma and now is training through the Job Corps to be a carpenter. He wants to make his dad proud.

He was one of several relatives to tell a Benton County judge that Dale Simpson was the family’s linchpin.

“After he died it was hard, it really was. The house changed dramatically. It wasn’t even home. I hate it there,” said Jared Simpson, who was not close at the time with his mom in Wisconsin.

His mom and older sister also were in the car but they were not hurt.

Driving drunk ‘was stupid’

“I could have lost everything that day. I lost my dad. I lost half my life,” added Jared Simpson. “But (Chayrez) could have took my mom and my sister. ... I’m scared of that now. I’m terrified of getting a call from mom saying, ‘Your sister is dead.’”

“I honestly don’t know why (Chayrez) did it, why he got behind the wheel. It was stupid. Don’t get me wrong, I do stupid things all the time,” said Jared Simpson. But he said his dad always told him not to drink and drive, to call for a ride even if he was hours away.

Dale Simpson.jpg
Fatal drunk driving crash victim Norman “Dale” Simpson of Yakima. Courtesy Simpson Family

Dale Simpson was westbound on I-182, starting to head out of the Tri-Cities, when his Ford Escort was hit head on by Chayrez’s Dodge Caliber.

Investigators never said how they believe Chayrez got on the wrong side of the highway before the 7:07 a.m. crash. His Dodge rolled and came to a stop on its roof blocking a lane.

Vehicular homicide charge

Chayrez refused the sobriety tests and a blood sample was drawn two hours later and reportedly came back at 0.23 percent. The legal limit to drive in Washington state is up to 0.08 percent.

Chayrez was charged in Benton County Superior Court with vehicular homicide for driving in a reckless manner while under the influence of alcohol.

He entered an Alford plea in March, meaning he did not admit guilt but believed prosecutors had enough evidence for a jury to convict him at trial.

In addition to agreeing to a nearly 9-year prison term, Deputy Prosecutors Megan Killgore and Andrew Clark said they would not file additional charges or aggravating circumstances.

Chayrez must get a substance abuse evaluation and follow the recommended treatment. His criminal record includes a burglary, theft and drug possession.

While Dale Simpson’s family continues to grieve, they’ve found it difficult to move on because they repeatedly have to tell his dementia-stricken mother that he was killed by a drunken driver.

Driving drunk is a choice

Sabra Simpson, who was in the car, wrote a letter to Judge Cameron Mitchell that she has flashbacks and nightmares and knows it will haunt her for the rest of her life.

The victim’s sister, Sharee, said in her letter that Dale Simpson had so much life to live and Chayrez made a foolish decision.

“(Chayrez) made a choice that would change our lives forever. Being intoxicated by any drug or alcohol and getting behind the wheel is a choice,” she wrote. “You can choose to spare someone’s life and your own, or you can choose to drive and take someone’s family away from them.”

“A choice. Dale had no choice,” she added.

His brother, Jerry Simpson, said he is not good with words but wished the best for Chayrez, who nodded in response to the brother. He started crying while listening to his victim’s relatives.

‘I must pay the price’

Defense attorney Caleb DiPeso said Chayrez would take it all back if he could, but “the wrong has been done” and the next step is taking responsibility.

Chayrez added that nothing he can say will ever change or reverse his actions from one year ago.

“But in the same breath, I would like to offer my condolences for your loss and express my deepest sorrow,” he said facing the Simpson family in court.

“In my conscious mind, I would have never set out or so much as conspired to take another human being’s life in this or any other way for that matter,” he said. “Yet, I recognize the irreparable damages and accept that I must pay the price for them.”

Chayrez said the crash and its aftermath also changed his life, and he prays that he uses the “time to reflect and understand myself so that I may hope to get better some day, and you yourself can find peace.”

Judge Mitchell told Chayrez he hopes he uses the time to reflect, so he can be a positive, productive and functioning member of society one day.

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.