Russell Sentence Could Lead To Tougher Laws

SPOKANE – While Fred Russell sits in prison for killing three Washington State University students in a drunk driving crash, a Washington state lawmaker is using his case to encourage lengthier sentences.

State Representative Chris Hurst, a Democrat from Enumclaw, is willing to admit that the judge imposed the maximum sentence of 14 years for each of the three vehicular homicide convictions. But Hurst points out that, by law, the judge had to allow Russell to serve those sentences concurrently, or at the same time. Hurst believes one shouldn’t be able to get three deaths for the price of one.

It was asked for repeatedly at Russell’s sentencing hearing. Family members of those he killed pleaded with the judge to force Russell to serve his 14-year sentences back to back instead of at the same time. However, the judge didn’t have the option.

“I believe the sentence is not appropriate,” Rep. Hurst says.

Rep. Hurst listened to the sentencing hearing live on the radio in Western Washington. He says the judge’s reaction convinced him the law had to be changed. Under his proposal, those convicted of multiple counts of vehicular assault or homicide would have to serve their sentences consecutively, lengthening a person’s time behind bars.

“I think listening to the judge, it was a real catalyst for me to realize here’s a judge saying as politely as he could, ‘My hands are tied’,” says Hurst.

“There’s nothing that can make up for the loss of someone,” says Linda Thompson.

Thompson, with the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council, knows the pain of losing a family member. Her three-year-old son was killed by a repeat drunk driver. She says while no jail sentence can bring back a loved one, tougher sentences can act as a deterrent to drinking and driving, she now supports Hurst’s idea to change the current law.

“It sends a message right now that it’s an accident,” Thompson says, “and it’s not an accident if someone is killed in an alcohol or drug-induced crash. It’s a crash.”

Thompson says her goal is to prevent drunk driving before it happens. But if it does, lawmakers now have to decide whether more victims in a single crash means more time, behind bars.

“I think there’s a value of life here that has to be recognized,” she says.

Hurst now has to get a hearing scheduled for his proposed bill, and he hopes it gets considered during this short legislative session.