The scene of the Nov. 10, 2015 crash on Sawdust Hill Road, in which Christopher Tevault died. (Sophie Bonomi/Kitsap News Group)

Poulsbo man sentenced to 15 months in prison for vehicular homicide

Changes plea to guilty. Attorney says, ‘This was him taking responsibility’

POULSBO — The driver in a crash that killed a coworker in November 2015 changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced on March 10 to 15 months in prison and 18 months on probation.

Patrick Van Knotts, 30, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide/disregard for safety of others in the death of his co-worker, Christopher Tevault, 28.

Knotts is serving his sentence at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, according to the state DOC online database. He faces a restitution hearing at 11 a.m. April 28 in Kitsap County Superior Court.

Prosecutors say Knotts was driving twice the speed limit when his car crashed into a Waste Management garbage truck on NE Sawdust Hill Road, Nov. 10, 2015. Tevault died at the scene.

Public Defender Curt W. Schulz said on March 27 of Knotts’ change of plea, “This was him taking responsibility for it … He admitted he could have been driving better and took responsibility. This is a case where this was his friend.”

According to Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John C. Purves, the standard range sentence for vehicular homicide/disregard for safety of others is 15 to 20 months. “Given the date of [the] incident, he faced a potential range of 21 to 27 months for Vehicular Homicide-Recklessness. The Legislature has subsequently altered the standard range sentence for Vehicular Homicide-Recklessness to … 78 to 102 months. This higher range was not applicable to Mr. Knotts, as the incident date pre-dated the change in standard sentencing range,” Purves wrote in an email.

“Had the case proceeded to trial, the State would have charged both Disregard for Safety and Recklessness, subjecting Mr. Knotts to a maximum exposure of 27 months. The case for Disregard for Safety was much stronger given the fact pattern, however. We reached agreement for a recommendation of 15 months, a standard range sentence in this case.”

According to the investigator’s Certificate of Probable Cause, Knotts told an investigator he was traveling about 30-35 mph and tried to slow when he saw the garbage truck but slid on leaves in the roadway. “Patrick said he hit the brakes and was not slowing,” the investigator wrote. “He stayed on the brakes and did not remember much after that.”

The investigator reported that the roadway was bare and wet at the time of the crash and “there were no leaves in the roadway.” The garbage truck driver told investigators that when Knotts’ vehicle came up over the crest of the hill, “it looked like the [vehicle] went airborne.”

The collision was captured on video by a camera installed in the Waste Management truck, according to the Certificate of Probable Cause. The garbage truck driver, and another co-worker of Knotts’ who was following in another vehicle, estimated Knotts’ speed at 50 mph.

Prosecutors say Knotts was driving his 1996 station wagon eastbound on Sawdust Hill Road at 11:48 a.m. Nov. 10, heading to the other co-worker’s house for lunch, when the crash occurred.

Sawdust Hill Road is a narrow, paved county road without marked lane lines; the posted speed limit is 25 mph. Investigators estimate Knotts’ car was traveling between 50 and 56 mph.

The other co-worker told investigators that he, Knotts and Tevault has just left a job site and, when they pulled onto Sawdust Hill Road, Knotts’ vehicle “took off really fast like a rocket” and he briefly lost sight of him.

“As Patrick crested a hill, he lost control of his vehicle,” according to the Certificate of Probable Cause. “Patrick drove onto the eastbound shoulder and corrected to the left. Patrick’s vehicle began to rotate in a counterclockwise manner and crossed over into the westbound lane of travel.”

Knotts’ vehicle went into a broadside slide and struck the front end of a Waste Management garbage truck, which had been traveling westbound on Sawdust Hill Road, according to the Certificate of Probable Cause.

Knotts was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center for treatment of serious injuries. The driver of the garbage truck was not injured.

In a written statement submitted to the court on Aug. 11, 2016, Tevault’s father wrote that he was participating in grief counseling, that his “feelings towards people in my life” have changed, and that he’s finding it “difficult to find happiness again.”

“I am forever without the presence of my first-born son,” John Tevault wrote. “I will never hear my son call me on the phone, will never feel his hug, or see him grow older. No longer will I hear his voice or feel his love … The number of family members and friends affected by this young man’s actions are too numerous to count. We have all been denied access to our beloved son, father, loved one, friend.”

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