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Hanna DUII case: He got off easy, but guilty plea is a major victory

Posted by on September 13th, 2010 at 11:59 am

Booking photo of Mt. Hood
Ski Bowl owner Kirk Hanna.
(Photo: Multnomah County)

Regrettably, I never got to my follow-up on the story about the case of Mt. Hood Ski Bowl owner Kirk Hanna. Thankfully, The Oregonian’s Anna Griffin did, so not only will the case get more attention, but it gives me a nudge to share it as well.

On August 26th, Hanna pleaded guilty to misdemeanor Hit and Run, DUII, and misdemeanor Assault. On May 23rd, Hanna was driving his Porsche Cayenne while drunk at speeds around 80 mph when he hit 45 year-old Robert Skof on SW Macadam and then left him for dead on the side of the road. Luckily, Skof suffered only a slight concussion and a few scrapes.

Hanna’s actions were egregious and Skof could have easily ended up dead, so why did prosecutors only get misdemeanors out of it? Especially given the fact that Hanna has a history of speeding tickets and even a prior DUII charge? As I reported a few weeks ago, Hanna had a trio of attorneys working on his behalf. His lead attorney, John Henry Hingson III, is a legendary criminal defender, so much so that cops I talked to simply referred to him as “John Henry” as if I should know who he is.

Hanna’s attorney’s certainly helped ferry him out of harms way, as any good lawyers should; but this case wasn’t nearly as simple as a wealthy, prominent businessman buying his way out of trouble. Here’s how The Oregonian’s Anna Griffin puts it:

“… this is… more an example of how complicated and consternating our legal system can be. It doesn’t matter what prosecutors and police know in their heart of hearts, just what they can prove in a court of law. Without Hanna’s assistance — however self-serving it might have been — they couldn’t prove anything.”

She’s right. The Portland Police had little to nothing to go on in this case. In fact, the Traffic Investigations Unit didn’t even know about the crash until Hanna’s lawyers went down to the station and delivered the keys to Hanna’s Porsche the morning after the crash. They admitted nothing other than the fact that the car had been involved in a collision. From then on, the case became a chess match between Hanna’s lawyers, the Multnomah County DA’s office, and the police. Or, as Griffin writes, “the lawyers closed the door and began an ethically tricky dance of discovery.”

Both sides played the game. Hanna’s lawyers used their expert knowledge of criminal law and the police tried to leverage unknowns and — like PPB Sgt. Todd Davis said in our story on Aug. 30th — they tried to win the pot with “only a pair of deuces.”

In the end, the didn’t win the entire pot, but at least they won something.

All the police had was a damaged car and some witness statements that lacked key details. Without a confession from Hanna, they had no case. But Hanna’s lawyers didn’t know that. They didn’t know if their client had killed someone that night or if a witness happened to get a good look at their client. If either of those facts were true, Hanna would have been facing a major felony crime.

Even though only getting misdemeanor charges were unsettling for many in the community, the DA’s office and the police successfully leveraged what little they had into an admission of guilt. It’s also important to remember that as part of the compromise plea deal, Hanna has committed to taking care of Skof with a civil settlement. From talking with the DA and Sgt. Davis, this was an amazing result and a huge victory given the circumstances.

— Read more about the Hanna case in Anna Griffin’s column and see our previous coverage here.

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Comments
  • dabby September 13, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    On a kind of but not related note:

    A Seattle driver was so remorsefull after striking and killing a cyclist (he recognized the cyclist as a friend afterwards) that he killed himself ….

    While it is very sad of course that a person committed suicide, it is a clear sign that some people care so much about others, sometimes more than they care about themselves.

    While others like Mr. Hanna care so little.

    I used to like to go to SkiBowl.

    Now I can never support this man’s ventures again.

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  • Velophile in Exile September 13, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    If you are at all frustrated about the outcome in this case, I urge you to not waste your energy.

    The best way to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t continue to happen is to get involved with lobbying the Legislature for reform of criminal laws related to driving.

    Although tougher laws cannot take the place of some of the missing evidence in this case, they can ensure this outcome is an isolated incident rather than a regular occurrence.

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  • cyclist September 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Velophile in Exile #2:

    You seem to recognize that tougher penalties have no bearing on this case, yet you suggest that tougher penalties would help to make sure that this was an isolated incident. Why exactly would that be the case? I think there’s pretty strong evidence that harsh penalties aren’t a very strong deterrent (see drug usage today, alcohol usage during Prohibition, the murder rate after the reinstitution of capital punishment, etc).

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  • are September 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    don’t really care if x goes to jail, i just want the license permanently revoked. not sure anna griffin’s story or todd davis’ explanation really covers why they could not get a revocation as part of the plea agreement.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm

      are,

      i agree that with his prior speeding tickets and DUII, especially the severity of this recent one, Hanna should be under consideration to have his license revoked. But without the legal threshold for that to happen (not sure exactly what it is) being reached, the prosecutors had no way to force it to happen. The details of the plea agreement will never be known bcuz is confidential b/w Hanna lawyers and the DA.

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  • jeff September 13, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    One thing Mr Hanna lost is a regular season pass holder (me, for the past few years, and many day passes for years before that). Also lift ticket fees for all of the friends and family that used to ski there with me. Too bad, I really loved SkiBowl. I hope you are reading this Hanna.

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  • Stig September 13, 2010 at 12:57 pm
  • John Lascurettes September 13, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for the continued coverage, Jonathan.

    I sent the O’s newsroom links to your article and asked why they were not covering this story back when you and KPTV were the only ones it seemed. I don’t know if it had a shred of influence, but I’m glad to see this get wider coverage.

    It would be great if you can check in with the victim some months down the road to see how he’d doing in any civil restitution against Hanna.

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  • PoPo September 13, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Thank you, Jonathan (and Ms. Griffin), for taking the time to explain how complicated some investigations can be. And why in some cases, Police or the DA might not be quickly forthcoming with information regarding investigations.

    Thank you for following up with the details of the investigation after the case is over–that often doesn’t make the news.

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  • KWW September 13, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Every time a vehicular felony act (not an accident or a misdemeanor) occurs, invariably the DA’s lament the lack of proof and invariably agree to a plea deal. This is presented as a ‘win’.

    I understand this rationale, but continue to not accept this logic. This is a not a ‘win’. It is at best an abrogation of the social cost of drunk driving by washing the hands of the matter, and leaving the resolution up to the civil courts.

    I also understand the Catch22 situation and the gamble that both sides take in regard to going forward with the trial.

    Specifically, what message do the DA’s send out if they continue this tactic? It is the partial acquiescence that drunken driving is tolerated on a macro-social level, that drunk driving is not a felony, and is hardly ever be prosecuted as such.

    Sorry but no matter how you trump this case, it is a ‘LOSE’

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  • Velophile in Exile September 13, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Agreed 100%, KWW.

    It is time to call the DAs’ bluff and change the requirements for proving a vehicular felony under Oregon law.

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  • JAT in Seattle September 13, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Hang on velophile @ 10. It sounds like you’re advocating creating a special category of crime for which the State need not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and instead need only meet some lesser burden of proof. What might this new standard be? Are you also suggesting an amendment to the U.S. constitution removing the 5th amendment right not to incriminate oneself?

    This case may not suit our fancy, but that’s how the legal system works: nasty and ultimately unsatisfying.

    Knee-jerk reactions to awful outcomes leeads to ill-advices legislation – see The Patriot Act…

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  • NW Biker September 13, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    This case hits a little too close to home for me. A few years ago, an unlicensed teenager in his mother’s SUV (with her consent, knowing that he had no license) drove it over the top of a friend’s car and crushed it. She died and he got a traffic ticket for driving without a license. I’m an attorney myself, and I can’t make sense of that.

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  • Velophile in Exile September 13, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    @ #12: No, JAT, I never said anything about the standard of proof. I was referring to the requirements/actions comprising serious crimes people commit with their vehicles. For example, Oregon lacks a vehicular homicide law.

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  • KWW September 13, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    @JAT#12, I personally am not advocating ANY changes to the law itself, just that the legal system make a commitment to society and put drunk drivers on trial.

    Call them to the witness stand and let them plead the fifth. Then let them try to plea bargain with the ‘coals to his feet’. It is a stronger position and a felony plea is more probable after deliberations have started than before (in my opinion).

    When the DA doesn’t even attempt to go to trial the result is inevitable.

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  • Bob September 13, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    So Hanna is publicly outed as an irresponsible drunk driver, loses business at Ski-Bowl and will probably pay (or his Insurance Co. will pay) big bucks in the civil trial. Not the best outcome but, considering Hanna could have said nothing and bet on getting away with it, some sort of Justice was served. The D.A. did good with what they had to work with.

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  • Loren September 13, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Yep, time to update some laws. Look what happens when a gun is involved in a crime instead of a car.

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  • middle of the road guy September 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    All all of those uninvolved third party employees at SkiBowl suffer from knee-jerk reactions.

    **INSULT DELETED**, but consider the bigger impact. Disproportionately small impact to Mr. Hanna or bigger impact to employees?

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  • Brian September 13, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Our justice system seriously flawed. Makes me sick

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  • Duncan September 13, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    If driving is a privilege not a right, isnt time at his second DUI to revisit the granting of this privilege?

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  • Mtnlvr September 13, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    Avoiding Skibowl will hurt mountain lovers as much or more than it will Hanna. How about a little compassion?
    This could be the the life lesson Hanna needed– fortunately the victim wasn’t critically injured or killed. Certainly he isn’t completely evil or he wouldn’t have come forward.

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  • Daniel Ronan September 13, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    On a less fortunate note, I point readers to this story out of Minnesota:

    http://www.startribune.com/local/west/102310694.html?elr=KArksi8cyaiUeyD8_o8cyaiU47cQUU

    I agree with commenter #2. We need to work to create laws that keeps dangerous people out of the driver’s seat, especially repeat offenders.

    Please come to Salem next year to help lobby the legislature for fairer transportation policies!

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  • Joe September 14, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I don’t feel safe with this guy back on the road.

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  • chelsea September 14, 2010 at 10:07 am

    #21, Like the article said “Without a confession from Hanna, they had no case. But Hanna’s lawyers didn’t know that. They didn’t know if their client had killed someone that night or if a witness happened to get a good look at their client.” I think it may have been something other than him not being “completely evil”, but I could just be cynical.

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  • beth h September 14, 2010 at 10:13 am

    If this is a “win”, why am I so disappointedabou it?

    –Because taking someone’s license away doesn’t keep them from driving a car;
    –because demanding that someone go to diversion won’t insure they never drink and drive again;
    –and because laws — even good laws — have no teeth without sufficient and consistent enforcement.

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  • Velophile in Exile September 14, 2010 at 10:42 am

    I would like to see a law requiring automatic license suspension for these types of offenses, and license revocation for multiple offenses, coupled with making driving without a valid license after such a conviction a felony with mandatory jail time.

    That would both provide some deterrent to driving when not authorized. And it would ensure that people who do it are removed from the roads for a period of time after doing so.

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  • matt picio September 14, 2010 at 11:07 am

    dabby (#1) – I’m not so sure you can say that the Seattle man was thinking of others. Suicide is a very selfish act, once that frequently takes no account of the effect on others. The man in Seattle effectively avoided taking responsibility for his actions. It’s a true tragedy.

    Jonathan (#6) – All true, but are’s basic premise is sound: there needs to be tougher penalties re: license suspension / revocation. IMO, as I’ve stated numerous times, that should be backed up by confiscating the vehicle in question so it cannot be driven.

    To the Multnomah County DAs – Thanks for working hard to try to successfully prosecute this case. Apologies for any implications on my part that the office isn’t doing its job.

    That said, KWW (#10) has a number of good points, and if the DA can’t convict based on the evidence present, then we the public need to know what we can do at the legislative level to help the DA’s Office do their job.

    I agree with beth h (#25) – This feels like a disappointment, even if it’s called a “win”. Until we start taking these people’s cars away, many of them are still going to drive.

    When people injure other people with guns, we take the gun away. (and usually prohibit them from buying another gun) Obviously there are differences between guns and cars, but the financial loss of having the car removed would serve as a large deterrant.

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  • benschon September 14, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Small town. This guy’s brother, Derek Hanna, was the developer of the high-rise boat barn concept south of OMSI. He was very supportive and forward thinking in designing in a bike/ped path that would help fill in the gap between the Springwater Corridor path and the Eastbank Esplanade. Hanna Sr. made millions in the car wash business.

    http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2008/09/developer_sees_green_for_tower.html

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  • Opus the Poet September 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Why do we allow drunk drivers to keep their cars even after they hit someone? DUI=no car

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  • wsbob September 14, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    “… then we the public need to know what we can do at the legislative level …” picio #27

    Making good law is the challenge; law with language that does the job of allowing police, DA’s and judges to deal with people that do bad, but that isn’t so broad sweeping that it pulls in people whose offenses don’t merit the punishment the law may provide for.

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  • Velophile in Exile September 14, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I remember the BTA took a leading role in the last session on vehicular homicide. Any idea whether that sort of thing is on the new agenda?

    Any other leadership on this issue in Oregon?

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  • JE September 14, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Our justice system looks so good on paper, until you read about it in the paper.

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  • Richard September 14, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    benschon #28,

    And where is Derek Hanna’s “high-rise boat barn” project? Never financed, never built. It was a pipedream. Did he ever dedicate a greenway trail easement to the City? No.

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  • benschon September 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    The boat barn was a pipe dream, but it was a pipe dream that included a prominent bike path. In contrast, the design of the unbuilt SK Northwest facility and the existing Portland Spirit H.Q. are openly against bike facilities.

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  • RyNO Dan September 14, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Guaranteed his phone was on.
    Why can’t they pinpoint him to the scene ?

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  • KWW September 15, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    The question would of been RyNO whether he was talking on the phone at the time. Since there is a plea bargain, it really doesn’t matter now…

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  • adam September 17, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    so the main problem is that the DA could not prove that he was driving his own car? This leaves me with very little faith in the ability of the DA to prove much of anything. There are no cameras that catch someone driving twice the speed limit? Can’t the DA show that he was somewhere drinking all night and left alone?

    Also, what is the rationale behind keeping the plea secret? Why should we not know these things? Obviously, I am not a lawyer.

    This is rich man’s justice. I wonder if we can figure out what sort of car he is driving now and whether or not he will be driving with suspended license.

    Stop Hanna before he endangers us again.

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  • Coco September 29, 2010 at 12:19 am

    The unfortunate accident between Mr. Hanna and Mr. Skof on the morning of May 23, 2010, is chilling and rocks every piece of security in your life. However, many more details will be revealed as the two parties settle a civil suit in the coming months. Ironically, these two gentleman have much more in common than the accident that has defined them in recent weeks. Mr. Skof should not be the mentor representing the bicycling community. Our hearts and prayers go out to these men and their families.

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