Earl McWilliams did not intend to kill Stephanie Boyd and injure her daughter when he plowed into them head-on in 2016, but his decision to drive sleep-deprived was aggravated, District Judge Keri Yoder found.
McWilliams was convicted in June of reckless vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.
Yoder on Monday sentenced McWilliams to four years in prison for Boyd’s death and to a three-year concurrent term for injuring her daughter, Maygin Boyd Vargas, who still struggles with both physical and emotional pain.
She was too traumatized to attend the sentencing, Deputy District Attorney Jason Wilson said, adding Boyd’s widower was too angry to come to court Monday.
“The defendant has yet to take responsibility. He killed a 46-year-old woman and injured her 18-year-old daughter. He still treats himself as a tragic victim,” Wilson said.
McWilliams continues to characterize what happened as a sheer accident, but that is “disingenuous,” Wilson said.
McWilliams chose to depart his home in Cortez in the middle of the night on July 5, 2016, and drive a woman he had just met to a rehab facility in Crawford.
McWilliams was acquitted of a charge alleging he drove under the influence of drugs, but nonetheless was found with methamphetamine and a prescription drug in his system, Wilson added, referring to the trial record.
Further, the DDA said, even if McWilliams’ assertion that the meth was “second-hand” because his passenger was smoking it on the trip, he still allowed the woman to use drugs in his vehicle. And, after dropping her off, he chose to drive straight back to Cortez early July 6, 2016, even though he could have pulled over to rest.
McWilliams did not simply dose off for a split second — he fell into a deep sleep for at least three seconds, traveled into Boyd’s lane on U.S. 550, and smashed into her car, despite her attempts to avoid him, it was said in court.
McWilliams showed “selfish disregard for everyone on the road,” Wilson said.
“His choice destroyed a family. That family is destroyed to the point they can’t even be here today. … (Boyd’s daughter) had to watch her mom, look at her take her final breath.”
Boyd Vargas is so affected that to this day, she is afraid to drive and cries every day, he added.
“Mr. McWilliams fails to take accountability in that,” Wilson said, asking for a nine-year prison term.
He also invoked a recent sentence in a Delta vehicular homicide, in which the defendant received 12 years, despite taking responsibility and pleading guilty.
The Delta case was substantially different and McWilliams’ case should be treated in light of its own circumstances, defense attorney Sandea Sargent said.
She also disputed the prosecutor’s characterization of her client.
“I feel really bad for the family,” McWilliams said when it was his turn to address the court. “I’m really sorry for these actions.”
Sargent said because an appeal is likely, it is not a rejection of responsibility for McWilliams to maintain his innocence; further, he does not dispute that his truck crashed into an oncoming vehicle.
McWilliams lost his wife, who had medical issues relating to an auto accident too, Sargent said. McWilliams has been trying to make things right by attending recovery classes, relocating to Naturita and becoming heavily involved his his church.
Sargent asked for either a substantial probation sentence, with 30- or 60-day stretches in jail as a condition, so McWilliams could retain housing and employment. Weekends in jail, even for years, could be a condition of probation, she added.
Failing that, the court could order McWilliams into a community corrections program.
“I understand the serious nature (of the case) … but more than one family will be compromised if the court sentences him to the Department of Corrections,” Sargent said.
McWilliams is a human being who has lived a largely law-abiding life, Yoder said. He did not set out that morning of July 6, 2016, to kill anyone.
Still, what did happen that day “is extreme,” and the crash itself was “extremely aggravated,” Yoder said, explaining how she wrestled with an appropriate sentence.
Boyd made every effort to avoid the oncoming collision. “She does everything in her power to stop this. … You slammed right into her, causing her to go 48 mph backward,” the judge said.
She said the evidence contradicts McWilliams’ denial of using meth, even though he was not found guilty of DUI.
Yoder also spoke of Boyd Vargas and her severe injuries.
The day of the crash, she and her mother were en route to a medical appointment, and were arguing. That is now Boyd Vargas’ final memory of her mother, Yoder said: “It’s an extremely sad situation.”
Prison is appropriate, Yoder found, but not a full nine years. She instead sentenced McWilliams to four years for Boyd’s death and a concurrent three-year term for Boyd Vargas’ injuries, to be followed with three years of parole.