Guilty plea entered in vehicular homicide near Sequim

Vance Mitchell Mattix pleaded guilty Wednesday, Jan. 31, to vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol in the October death of a Sequim man.

Mattix, 50, of Joyce, was driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.27 percent when he caused a wreck that killed 61-year-old Andrew Courney last Oct. 18, Clallam County prosecutors said. The legal driving limit for alcohol in Washington state is 0.08 percent.

Mattix will be sentenced Feb. 28.

In exchange for his guilty plea, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney April King recommended an 8-year, 6-month prison sentence for Mattix — the low end of the standard range — to be followed by 18 months of community custody and chemical dependency treatment.

Based on his lack of criminal history, the high end of Mattix’s sentencing range is 10 years, 6 months.

Mattix was taken into custody at the end of a 20-minute court hearing last Wednesday.

Defense attorney Lane Wolfley had requested that his client be booked at sentencing.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jesse Espinoza objected to the request.

“This is not your run-of-the-mill felony,” Espinoza told Superior Court Judge Christopher Melly. “This is a homicide.”

Melly found no basis to delay the booking as required by statute. Mattix was allowed time to hug family members before he was taken to the Clallam County jail.

Mattix posted a $50,000 security bond on his house in lieu of bail last October.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office said Mattix was driving northbound in a Ford utility truck and failed to negotiate the sweeping corner where Kitchen-Dick turns into Lotzgesell Road last Oct. 18.

The truck that Mattix was driving crossed the centerline and collided with Courney’s passenger van at about 3:48 p.m., deputies said.

Courney was pronounced dead upon arrival at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles.

Mattix was visibly intoxicated after the crash and smelled heavily of alcohol, Deputy Michael Leiter wrote in the affidavit for probable cause.

Mattix told the lawman that he had been working in Bremerton earlier that day and was on his way to pick up his children.

According to Leiter’s account, Mattix stopped the deputy as he was performing a horizontal gaze nystagmus test and said “just forget it, I’m drunk. Take me to prison, my life is over.”

Mattix entered alcohol treatment after posting the security bond and enrolled in a 24-hour sobriety program, which required regular alcohol tests.

The 0.27 percent blood alcohol level was derived from a blood test, King said in an interview last week.

Wolfley asked the judge to allow Mattix to be taken into custody at his sentencing hearing, saying his client lives “off the grid” and needed time to make arrangements for the family farm.

“This is a sensitive topic, because all of the parties here recognize that a crime had not only occurred, but a serious loss to the Courney family and community and their circle of friends has been experienced,” Wolfley said.

“Mr. Mattix had wanted a little more time to get his family affairs in order, and he’s been working every day on that.”

Espinoza objected, noting that Mattix had traveled to Las Vegas to visit a terminally-ill family member in violation of a court order that required him to stay in Western Washington.

After the trip to Nevada, Mattix received permission from the court to visit a terminally-ill brother in the Portland, Ore., area.

“The history of your case seems to indicate that you’re reasonably compliant with the court’s orders regarding conditions of release, with the exception of the trip to Las Vegas,” Melly told Mattix.

“But going forward, the court’s not prepared to take that risk.”

The state Department of Corrections will conduct a pre-sentencing investigation for Mattix prior to his sentencing.

Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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