Joyce man apologizes as family, friends tell of man killed in wreck

Vance Mitchell Mattix

Vance Mitchell Mattix

Vance Mitchell Mattix apologized for taking Andrew Courney’s life before he was sentenced Feb. 28 to 8½ years in prison for vehicular homicide.

Mattix, 50, of Joyce had pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol for causing a wreck that killed the 61-year-old Sequim man Oct. 18.

“There is a dark spot in my soul that I will live with for the rest of my life,” Mattix said. “I am so very sorry for what I’ve done.”

Investigators said Mattix had a blood alcohol level of 0.27 percent when the Ford truck he was driving collided with Courney’s passenger van at the corner of Kitchen-Dick and Lotzgesell roads near Sequim.

The legal driving limit for alcohol in Washington state is 0.08 percent.

“I made a horrible decision to drink and drive, and I caused the death of a wonderful man,” Mattix said.

Clallam County Superior Court Judge Christopher Melly imposed the 102-month sentence that was recommended in a plea agreement.

Mattix’s prison term will be followed by 18 months of community custody and chemical dependency treatment.

Fifteen victim impacts statement were read in open court by Courney’s family and friends, several of whom asked Melly to impose a longer prison term for Mattix.

Eleven statements were read in support of Mattix’s character.

Kelly Wagner, Courney’s stepdaughter, said her best friend was killed by a drunk driver 16 years ago.

“Now I’ve lost my dad as well,” Wagner said. “Your action, Vance, that day will forever hurt our family and all of Andy’s loving friends. You stole someone irreplaceable from us.

“The saddest part of it all is nobody got to say goodbye,” Wagner added. “That’s what hurts the most.”

Courney was described as a loving man and talented musician whose love of outdoors was captured through his art.

Courney’s paintings of nature scenes were displayed on courtroom monitors, as were images of wood and bone necklaces that he had carved.

A photograph of a smiling Courney was printed on a large display near the center of the courtroom.

“Andy was a strong, healthy man with many happy years left in him, but his life was cut short due to a cold-hearted drunk thinking it was OK to be trashed behind the wheel,” said Brian Wagner, Courney’s stepson.

Courney, a weather observer who once worked in Antarctica, was returning home from watching storms build up from the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge and county park when the wreck occurred near his home, his family said.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office said Mattix was driving northbound on Kitchen-Dick Road and failed to negotiate the sweeping right turn when he crashed into Courney’s van at about 3:48 p.m.

Mattix was visibly intoxicated after the crash and smelled heavily of alcohol, telling Deputy Michael Leiter that he had been working in Bremerton earlier that day and was on his way to pick up his children, court papers said.

Courney died in an ambulance before it arrived at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles.

His family members said they could not view the body because of the severity of the injuries.

Janet Watral, Courney’s wife of 25 years, said her husband stayed by her side through major surgeries, lengthy hospitalizations and debilitating chemotherapy since she was diagnosed with cancer six years ago.

“The nurses at the clinic loved to see Andy come in — how caring, how devoted and how funny he was,” Watral said.

“Andy promised that we would get though my cancer together, and now he can’t fulfill that promise because Mr. Mattix took him from me.”

The sentence imposed on Mattix was on the low end of the standard sentencing range.

Based on his lack of criminal history, the high end of the sentencing range was 10 years, 6 months.

“I don’t feel that the time you will get is enough based on a lousy point system,” stepdaughter Jessica Dulin told Mattix.

“You murdered with a bottle and truck. This wasn’t an accident. We all know driving drunk can kill someone, but you did it anyway.”

“We feel bad for your kids, but they will see you again,” Dulin added.

“We are left with pictures that are hard to look at, and music that’s hard to hear, an empty spot at the table and the horrible memory of the night of Oct. 18th.”

Melly allowed the state to play a song that Courney had recorded on a Hawaiian slack-key guitar. The hearing was attended by about 50 people.

Those who spoke on Mattix’s behalf described a dedicated family man who has been a cornerstone in the Joyce community.

Before the wreck, Mattix had worked as a manager in the shipbuilding and repair industry. He has two children, ages 13 and 14.

“Vance has never wavered for one moment about needing to take full responsibility and face the heavy price he has to pay for the horrible pain he’s caused and the loss of Mr. Courney’s life,” said his wife, Tuesday Mattix.

Vance Mattix faced the judge as he apologized to Courney’s family and friends, saying he thinks about Courney every morning and night.

“I understand that no apology I could ever give will be enough, and no apology that I could ever give will express the amount of sorrow that I carry in my heart,” Vance Mattix said.

Mattix told Melly that he was sorry for becoming a “burden on the state,” promising to seek alcohol treatment and education while incarcerated and to help others when he is released.

Mattix sobbed as he apologized to his family and friends.

“I swear that I will spend the rest of my life trying to be a better husband, a better dad, a better son, a better brother, a better friend and a better person,” he said.

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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