19-year old Ashawntae Rosemon was sentenced to 60 months in prison yesterday for causing the death of Dustin Finney.
Finney was riding his bike westbound on SE Division Street near SE 85th at about 1:00 am on the morning of August 12th when Rosemon struck him from behind. The impact catapulted Finney 175 feet through the air and he died instantly. Roseman, who had a blood alcohol level of about 0.18 at the time of the collision, had just turned left onto Division from 82nd. Investigators believe he overshot the corner and ended up driving his Acura MDX in the bike lane. Rosemon also struck a second rider, Kevin Phomma, who sustained minor injuries.
Despite hitting two people, Rosemon fled the scene. Police later found him near his abandoned vehicle a few blocks away.
In a plea deal that came with the full participation and approval of Finney’s family and Deputy District Attorney Christine Mascal, it was agreed to drop Manslaughter II and reckless driving charges — which reduced Rosemon’s sentence from a mandatory 75 months to 60 months in prison (with possibility of time off for good behavior and other credits) and 36 months of post-prison supervision. Rosemon will also have his Oregon driver’s license permanently revoked.
In exchange for the dropped charges, Rosemon (who waived his right to a jury trial) pleaded guilty to Criminally Negligent Homicide, Felony Hit and Run, Vehicular Assault on a Bicyclist (for striking Phomma), and DUII.
The courtroom proceeding this afternoon was emotional for everyone. Finney’s family sat on one side of the courtroom and Rosemon’s on the other. Once the bailiffs sat Rosemon in his seat next to his attorney, there were several minutes of awkward silence as everyone waited for Judge Michael McShane to enter the courtroom.
With two large photos of Dustin Finney propped on a table right in front him, Rosemon listened as McShane laid out the nature of his sentencing and asked for his pleas.
After the judge recapped the crimes and made sure Rosemon knew what was at stake by pleading guilty, he then asked the young man if he had any questions. Rosemon asked if the driver’s license revocation would be for life. McShane said there’s a possibility that after all his time and probation had been served, and a 10 year waiting period had elapsed (about 18 years from now), Rosemon could apply to have his license restored.
If Rosemon drives before his probation period is up, Judge McShane made it clear that he’ll go back to prison. When Rosemon and his family members said that it was his first DUII offense, McShane said, “Yeah, right. That’s his first DUI. Nice. It’s a little bit more than that. It’s a homicide.”
As per Oregon law, McShane then read a statement about the incident that he addressed directly to Rosemon:
“On August 12th 2011 while under the influence of intoxicants I drove a motor vehicle on a public roadway. During that time I struck Dustin Finney, a bicyclist, with my vehicle, recklessly causing his death; and, knowing he was injured, failed to stay at the scene. Additionally during this incident I struck Kevin Phomma, a bicyclist, causing him injury.
Is that a true statement?”
Rosemon briefly paused and then replied, “Nah, I didn’t know I hurt anybody…” His sentence trailed off and he completely broke down and began to sob.
“Take a couple deep breaths,” Judge McShane advised.
After Rosemon regained his composure, he acknowledged that the statement was true.
Then it was Dustin’s mom’s turn to speak. Rising from the bench, she pulled out a statement and rested her hand on an urn containing her son’s ashes…
Ms. Finney described her late son as a “loving, family-oriented person” who was a dedicated activist, volunteer, and student. He was 28 when he was killed and was the first of her four children, one of whom, his sister Jenna, wept by her side as she spoke.
“He loved to bicycle,” Ms. Finney read, “He thought it was keeping one less car off the road and a great way to stay in shape.”
“I sincerely believe that you can make this experience the best thing that’s ever happened to you if you want it to.”
— Kristi Finney, Dustin’s mom, speaking directly to Ashawntae Rosemon
As Ms. Finney read from one of Dustin’s journal entries about a bike ride he did to Beacon Rock State Park, she noticed Rosemon’s lawyer whispering to his client. She stopped, saying, “I’m not quite positive that the defendant is listening and I would appreciate that.”
“No disrespect,” acknowledged Christian Day, Rosemon’s lawyer, “I apologize.”
Ms. Finney continued…
“When Dustin decided to do something or learn something, or be something; nothing could stop him. Well, nothing stopped him until you struck him from behind and threw him 175 to die and then left him like a piece of garbage like the dirty pavement on Division. You stopped this young man… He was really going somewhere and would have made the world a better place… And you stopped him cold.
Most of us in the courtroom today are here here because you’ve changed our lives. In your drunkenness and self-centered uncaring for others, you’ve stole the life of a very gifted young man and impacted forever the lives forever of those who knew and loved him, and, those who knew and loved you.”
As difficult as Ms. Finney’s words were to say — and for Mr. Rosemon to hear — she also displayed amazing graciousness. She continued,
“If it’s possible for you Ashawntae, I’d like you to look at me when I read this next part.
Sometimes I’ve thought of you more than of my own dead son…
Is killing one person, and such a good person, going to wake you up? Is spending four or five years in prison going to make you into a worse person or a better person? Will you wallow in self-pity and blame other people for what’s happened to you? Or will you take responsibility for yourself and learn that you can overcome what you’ve done and who you’ve been?
I sincerely believe that you can make this experience the best thing that’s ever happened to you if you want it to.
What I know from my own personal experience is that people like to help people who are trying to help themselves, so if you really truly try to help yourself people are going to come out of the woodwork to try and help you to succeed. That’s my encouragement to you.
And of course I don’t hate you. I could have. Sometimes I wish I did. But instead, I want you to make something good of yourself. I want you to be proud of yourself, I want you to be proud of your accomplishments, proud of the role model you’ll become for your younger siblings, proud of how happy you can make your mom if you wanted to.
You’re a very young man with your whole life ahead of you. You can eventually make it a good one. Please do that for Dustin. Do it for Dustin’s family and friends. Do it for your family and friends. But most of all, do it for you.
Christian Day then introduced his client.
Rosemon had written a statement. It was in front of him; but he pushed it away. Overcome with emotion, he instead spoke straight from his heart. He cried and sobbed so violently most of his words were unintelligible…
“I knew I shouldn’t have been drinking and driving… I just want you to know I didn’t want to hurt anybody… I didn’t know I’d hit anybody until I was arrested… It wasn’t like I just did it and didn’t care… I think about it all the time… I wish I had just never been behind that wheel drunk… I just want you to know that I’m really sorry and I hope you can forgive me some day.”
This won’t be the last time Rosemon communicates with Finney’s family. As per the plea deal, the DA’s office is requiring that he writes a letter to them every six months, “to share with the victims’ family how he feels about what he’s done and steps taken to improve his life.”