By Natalie Johnson / firstname.lastname@example.org
A Castle Rock man was sentenced to spend the next three years of his life in prison Wednesday for leaving the scene of an Interstate 5 collision that killed a Chehalis motorcyclist in April.
Had David L. Huisenga, 44, stayed at the scene, rather than leaving and attempting to cover up his involvement by setting fire to his truck, he likely wouldn’t have even received a traffic citation, Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said.
“To me that is just telling,” Meyer said. “The defendant made a stupid decision.”
Huisenga pleaded guilty in separate hearings Wednesday in Lewis County Superior Court for hit and run with a death and second-degree arson.
Meyer’s office and Huisenga’s attorney, Don Blair, jointly recommended a sentence of 31 months, the low end of the standard sentencing range given Huisenga’s limited criminal history.
After hearing arguments from both attorneys and input from the motorcyclist’s family, Superior Court Judge Andrew Toynbee imposed a sentence of 36 months.
“This isn’t just a regular hit and run involving a death,” Toynbee said. “I do this in part because Mr. Huisenga didn’t just leave the scene. He did more than that; he tried to cover his tracks.”
In a separate hearing immediately following the first, Superior Court Judge Joely O’Rourke imposed a sentence of 12 months in prison for the arson charge, to run concurrently with the longer sentence.
Meyer said he split the crimes into separate case numbers because he viewed the hit and run and arson as separate crimes.
The Washington State Patrol received a report just after 5 a.m. April 25 of a crash involving multiple vehicles at milepost 80 of northbound Interstate 5 in Centralia.
According to a report from the State Patrol, Michael T. Fields, 57, of Chehalis, was driving northbound when his motorcycle crashed and slid across a freeway lane into the shoulder. He was ejected and hit by a 2018 Freightliner semi truck — killing him at the scene.
Several friends and family members spoke Wednesday at Huisenga’s sentencing hearing.
“I was one of Mike’s work family,” said David Roose. “I cannot tell you what a loss this is.”
Tami Hodgins, longtime partner of Fields, described him as a “kind and generous man.”
“Mostly my heart is broken,” she said. “Physically I have a hard time getting things done. Other times I just feel plain angry he was taken from me.”
The State Patrol learned that a red 2001 Chevrolet Silverado truck registered to Huisenga was in some way involved in the crash after finding a license plate at the scene. Detectives asked members of the public to come forward with any information they might have about the crash.
Meyer told The Chronicle Wednesday Fields’ motorcycle actually hit Huisenga’s truck. After his arrest, Huisenga reported he was changing lanes at the time the vehicle’s collided, after seeing the motorcycle coming up behind him.
Meanwhile, at about 9:15 a.m. that morning, a Washington State Department of Transportation worker saw smoke coming from an area near Exit 63 of I-5 south of Chehalis.
Fire crews responded and found a vehicle on fire. While the vehicle was destroyed, crews found a license plate matching the one left at the scene of the crash, identifying it as Huisenga’s truck.
Fire investigators determined the truck was intentionally set on fire, according to court documents.
That afternoon, Huisenga walked into the Castle Rock Police Department to report his truck stolen. He later admitted to setting fire to it after the collision, then walking south to Castle Rock.
Toynbee and both attorneys noted that, according to state law, hit and run, even when involving a fatality, is not considered a crime against a person. Huisenga pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the crash, not causing the other man’s death.
“These cases are never easy to address and this partIcular crime has been troubling to those of us who have been on the prosecution side,” Toynbee said. “The crime is leaving the scene.”
Meyer said he plans to work to change the law classifying hit and run as a victimless crime.