Anchorage — An Anchorage Superior Court judge sentenced a 22-year-old Chugiak man to seven years in prison Thursday for driving drunk when his pickup struck and seriously injured a couple walking home from a New Year's Eve concert.
Judge Philip Volland capped an emotional four-hour hearing by saying that while one of the victims testified to the defendant's remorse and future potential, the crime was too serious and reckless to warrant a lesser sentence.
"If afternoons like this ever stop breaking my heart I should quit being a judge," said Volland after hearing testimony from the victims and defendant.
Tex Daniels II had pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree assault and one misdemeanor count of drunken driving in a May deal with prosecutors.
Ashley Brotherton and Clayton Wilbanks, both 25, were walking home from a concert early on Jan. 1 when Daniels hit them with his Dodge Ram pickup truck near the corner of West 11th Avenue and I Street downtown. He was driving 50 mph in a 30 mph zone, prosecutors said. His blood alcohol content was 0.226 percent, nearly three times the legal limit. He tried to leave the scene of the accident but was stopped by witnesses. By the time of the incident two charges of underage drinking were already on his criminal record.
Volland said that Daniels' level of intoxication, speed, attempt to flee the scene and prior record influenced his decision to give him an eight-year sentence with one year suspended rather than the seven years with 3½ years suspended that Daniels' public defender Jeff Robinson had asked for.
Daniels will be nearly 30 when he gets out of jail.
Brotherton and Wilbanks had just moved to Anchorage from Colorado in the summer of 2011, Brotherton told the court, and were beginning to feel at home in the city when the collision happened.
She said her injuries plunged her from working at her "dream job" as a special education teacher at Denali Montessori into a new existence of CAT scans, MRIs and grueling physical therapy. Her injuries included a broken neck, skull fractures and a traumatic brain injury.
Though Brotherton returned to Alaska and her job, she's only working half-days that exhaust her and leave her worried she's not the teacher she once was, she said. Lingering nerve pain keeps the right side of her body in excruciating pain.
Wilbanks, who suffered a lacerated spleen, broken nose and a mild head injury, talked about seeing his high-school sweetheart -- "my Ashley" -- hospitalized with a neck brace, IV and catheter, struggling to use eating utensils or sit up.
The two can't run, hike or cross-country ski yet -- the things they moved to Alaska to do.
"Ashley and I are no longer the people we used to be," he said.
Daniels, who cried at times throughout the hearing, said that knowing he'd hurt Brotherton and Wilbanks was "by far the worst feeling in the world."
He had sought treatment for problems with alcohol at an inpatient program and would be happy to never drink again, he said.
After prison, he hoped to share his story with others, become a mechanic and start a family, he said.
Wilbanks said that Daniels has asked him to meet in-person after the accident.
The two men made an agreement, Wilbanks said: as hard as Brotherton had fought to regain the life she had before the accident Daniels would try to make things right, too.
"Tex Daniels has had his life changed as well," he said.
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