David William Fincher admitted in court on Tuesday that he caused the death of 2-year-old Marley Peterson and injured her brother, mother and three other people in a drunken driving crash in 2016.
But Fincher repeatedly told a crowded courtroom: “I do not drink and drive.”
Fincher, 47, took the witness stand in his own defense Tuesday in Deschutes County Circuit Court on the sixth day of his trial for first-degree manslaughter.
He and his attorneys hope to convince a jury of six men and six women to approve a lesser charge, so he can avoid a Measure 11 sentence.
Authorities said Fincher had a blood-alcohol level of between 0.22 and 0.25 the morning he crashed into two other vehicles. The legal limit is 0.08. But he maintains he did not drink that day and was instead experiencing the effects of what he drank the night before: roughly 16 shots of alcohol.
“I got up that morning. I felt OK. I was not drunk,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a very nice day.”
Fincher is charged with one count of first-degree manslaughter, one of driving under the influence of intoxicants, five counts of third-degree assault and 11 counts of recklessly endangering another person.
Manslaughter 1, a Measure 11 offense, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The defense rested following Fincher’s cross-examination. Closing arguments are set to begin Wednesday morning.
So far, over two weeks, jurors have heard from first responders, crime scene investigators and victims of the three-car crash. Earlier on Tuesday, Sarah Peterson, mother of Marley Elizabeth Peterson, testified.
Relatives and friends from around the country wore flower pins to court to honor Marley.
Fincher, the longest-serving inmate at the Deschutes County Jail at 513 days, wore white pants and a blue oxford shirt.
Several people in the gallery remarked how different he looks now compared to when he began his incarceration.
Over the course of his hour on the stand, Fincher described his life and his history with alcohol, explaining that alcohol had cost him several relationships.
Fincher was born in Lebanon, Oregon, and grew up nearby in Donald. He graduated from North Marion High School and after, went to work as a carpenter. Following a divorce, he transitioned to work as a firefighter/EMT for the Aurora Fire District. He even taught high school students about the dangers of drunken driving with a course titled, “Every 15 Minutes.”
Deputy District Attorney Kandy Gies objected to her opposing counsel, who submitted into evidence a photo of Fincher and some firefighter friends smiling in front of their station house. Judge A. Michael Adler allowed the photo into evidence.
At the time of the collision, Fincher was living with his sister’s family in Sherwood and working as a long-haul truck driver, he told the court. He had three days off on the weekend of Sept. 11, 2016, following three weeks on the road. He testified he wanted to give his sister’s family some space, “never quite feeling comfortable in the house.” He decided to go camping.
“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing,” he said.
Fincher said he stopped at a liquor store on his way, buying a bottle of gin and a bottle of coconut rum. He said he associated each one with a failed relationship. In his truck was a bottle of his usual drink: Pendleton Whisky.
The night before the crash, Fincher wound up camping along the Clackamas Highway, where prosecutors said he had drank from the bottle of coconut rum.
According to the police narrative, at around 9:38 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2016, Fincher was driving his black 2000 Toyota Tacoma east on U.S. Highway 20 near Couch Market Road when he lost control negotiating a corner and crossed over the center line into an oncoming 2014 Volkswagen Jetta driven by Sarah Peterson. He also struck a 2016 Dodge Charger driven by Alexander Perkins of Bend.
Oregon State Police senior trooper Jason Hansen, the first law enforcement officer on scene, testified to being passed by another speeding vehicle: a white truck driven by Jason Peterson, father of Marley, headed for the crash scene. Hansen testified he was met by his wife, who was yelling, “He killed our baby.”
Bend Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff Blake described the indelible “brain tattoos” first responders collect over their careers. He said he was left with the image of arriving at the wreck: the grieving parents on one side of the road and on the other, Fincher, sitting on the dirt, arguing with paramedics and threatening to sue.
“He seemed more concerned with himself than with what he had done,” Blake said.
Fincher said Tuesday he doesn’t remember much after he pulled out of his campsite.
Gies provided a compelling visual near the end of trial Tuesday, as she placed the three liquor bottles on the witness stand as she cross examined Fincher.
Fincher’s attorney stood and objected, “to the continued presence of the liquor bottles on the witness stand.”
He was overruled.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org