Dangerous driver gets 70 months behind bars for vehicular assault

Oct 3, 2022, 7:38 PM | Updated: Oct 4, 2022, 5:08 am

King County Courthouse...

King County Courthouse (Image: Joe Mabel)

(Image: Joe Mabel)

They don’t always make the headlines, but every Friday in King County Court, those convicted of crimes hear their sentence. KIRO Newsradio brings you the story each week during ‘Crime and Punishment.’

Last week’s sentences included an encampment arsonist, a dangerous driver who nearly killed a family, and a terrifying New Year’s Day robbery.

Crime and Punishment: Highest number of domestic violence murders, prosecutor says

Case #1 Encampment Arsonist

We hear a lot about encampment fires, but unlike some, this fire about a block off Rainier Ave South last December was no accident.

“There was a tent fire with two people inside – a man and a woman. And when Seattle police went to investigate, there was a witness who said that he saw a guy going to the gas station nearby and pouring gas on this tent before he lit it on fire. And one of the victims came out and said ‘what are you doing?’” Casey McNerthney with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office said.

“This is a case that King County prosecutors rush filed. We asked for the defendant here to be held on $100,000 bail because we argued that he was a danger. This isn’t somebody who went to the encampment to target the folks there, the victims and the defendant were known to each other before this happened. But whatever the dispute was, this [was] not the way to handle it,” McNerthney said.

McNerthney says Seattle Police did great work getting the evidence to prosecutors and they were able to immediately file the case.

“And faced with that evidence, the defendant pleaded guilty and he was ultimately convicted of felony arson charges and said that he maliciously sent that tent on fire,” McNerthney said.

“He’s got a history of violence, which King County prosecutors showed to the judge with our high bail request. His conviction history includes multiple assault cases and criminal trespass, harassment, interfering with domestic violence reporting,” he said.

But most of those convictions involved misdemeanors.

“And that matters, because in Washington state if you’re convicted of misdemeanors, those don’t count towards your offender score, which influences how long you stay in prison for a new offense,” explained McNerthney.

“What happened here with this felony arson conviction, even though he’s got multiple misdemeanor convictions, his range was 12 to 14 months. The defendant was sentenced to 12 months on Friday and also 18 months in community custody with the Department of Corrections,” said McNerthney.

“An important thing to note here is that victims of crimes deserve justice regardless of where they live. And people who commit felony crimes can expect charges whenever we can prove those cases, regardless of where they happen in King County,” he added.

Case #2 Dangerous Driver Vehicular Assault, Illegal Gun (Travis Swan)

On a Sunday night in September 2020, multiple 911 calls came in about someone driving erratically on I-405. The driver was speeding and drifting across all lanes before suddenly exiting the highway.

“There was a red light there but this car didn’t stop, and plowed into the back of a Tesla,” said McNerthney.

“It was a young couple in their 20s with their three-year-old daughter in the back. The three-year-old was in a car seat, but the impact was so intense that the child got a concussion when she was flung up to the ceiling of this car, and her dad got a concussion too. The mom suffered a really serious compound arm and shoulder fracture that required emergency surgery,” he added.

Despite his injury, the dad got out and chased the suspect – who tried to run from the scene – along with several bystanders. The suspect was hiding in the bushes and when cops found him, he also possessed an illegal gun.

“He had multiple felony convictions out of Pierce County, including three convictions for ID theft and two for attempted robbery. So this is a guy who had a high offender score going into his sentencing. [He] was convicted of vehicular assault, felony hit-and-run and unlawful gun possession,” said McNerthney.

The standard range was between 51 and at least 60 months, but prosecutors in this case argued for 70 months – nearly six years. On Friday, a judge sentenced him to 70 months and also required Swan to get evaluations for substance abuse and alcohol.

Case #3 First Degree Robbery

The final case involves Caleb Bell who carried out a terrifying robbery – at least for one QFC clerk.

“It was just before 8:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day at the QFC right there on 145th NE Street on the North Seattle-Shoreline border. This guy walks in with what the clerk at the QFC thought was a rifle slung across his back and he asked for cigarettes. The guy who was working at QFC said ‘Sure, but you gotta pay for them,’ and that really set off the defendant. He demanded money and then took this rifle and pointed [it] directly at the clerk,” said McNerthney.

“When police found him, it turns out that this was a loaded AK-47 that was slung on the guy’s back with a full magazine and a round in the chamber. That’s really, really terrifying and this could have ended much worse,” he added.

Fortunately, the gun was not fired.

Prosecutors rush filed this case.

“The sentencing range for first-degree attempted robbery as set by state lawmakers is 27 to 36 months. The range for unlawful gun possession with this guy’s history is three to eight months and again, that’s set by state lawmakers. A lot of folks will say ‘Really? Three to eight months for an AK?’ but that’s what we’re limited to and it’s not just King County, [it’s] statewide,” explained McNerthney, who added Bell’s criminal history also included harassment, trespassing and interfering with domestic violence reporting, amongst other crimes.

Prosecutors sought a used firearms enhancement to keep Bell off the streets longer.

“With that firearm enhancement, that increased the range and we argued for 67.5 months, roughly five and a half years. The judge on Friday didn’t quite go for that and gave him 63 months, but that’s still five and a quarter years,” said McNerthney.

“That firearm enhancement really made a difference there because that means additional years in prison,” he added.

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Dangerous driver gets 70 months behind bars for vehicular assault