The former firefighter-paramedic who had a blood alcohol level of 0.25 when he caused a crash that killed a 2-year-old girl near Sisters in 2016 was sentenced Monday to 22 years in prison, nearly the maximum allowable sentence.
David William Fincher, of Sherwood, could have gotten 17 years had he accepted a plea deal offered by the Deschutes County district attorney. Instead, he took his chances with a jury and last month was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter for showing “extreme indifference” causing the death of Marley Elizabeth Peterson.
The girl was traveling with her mother and older brother to the Sisters Folk Festival on a sunny Sunday morning in September 2016 when she was killed in the crash on U.S. Highway 20.
The jury further found Fincher guilty of five counts of third-degree assault for causing injury to five other people in the crash, driving under the influence of intoxicants and eight counts of reckless endangerment.
At Monday’s sentencing in Deschutes County Circuit Court, Judge A. Michael Adler said he agreed with the jury’s findings “100 percent” and ordered Fincher’s manslaughter and assault sentences to run consecutively, and not concurrently, as his defense had asked.
Adler told Fincher he’d been well-served by his defense attorney, Todd Grover, who “made the best arguments he could for you.”
Grover called the crash the worst thing his client had ever done, but that his actions that day did not encapsulate who he was. He was a loving father, son and brother who became a first responder earlier in his life so he could help people, Grover said.
A number of Fincher’s relatives attended the hearing, some asking the judge for mercy. Fincher was raised in a religious household with four siblings in Donald, near Salem, said his father, Darrell Fincher. He said the “monster in this case is alcohol.”
“I hate alcohol and what it’s done to this family over there,” Darrell Fincher said, gesturing to the Petersons. “But there is a degree of hatred in this case that I haven’t seen. Alcohol is a poison, and so is hatred. Hatred can destroy a person like alcohol can destroy a person.”
Fincher himself addressed the court, in a soft, halting voice. He said the hatred directed toward him by friends and relatives of those he’d injured was appropriate.
“I made the worst decision of my life, and I accept my punishment. I do,” he said. “I will forever be sorry for these things. I am truly sorry.”
Adler told Fincher his background as a firefighter-paramedic was relevant, as was his experience as a licensed commercial truck driver. It was as a trucker that Fincher developed an interest recording dashcam footage of his cross-country drives. This provided evidence in his weeklong trial, as jurors watched his entire drive on Highway 20 from a campsite on the Clackamas River, over winding mountain passes. He ultimately crashed his 2000 Toyota Tundra into Sarah Peterson’s Volkswagen Jetta and a Dodge Charger driven by Alexander Perkins, of Bend.
The footage appeared to show Fincher’s driving getting worse throughout the drive.
“I suspect you were drinking while you were driving; it doesn’t really matter,” Adler said. “You were basically operating a 6,000-pound weapon down a mountain road with no concern for anybody.”
Monday was an emotional day in Adler’s courtroom. In the morning, victim impact statements were read by friends, relatives and other people affected by the tragedy. A bailiff was seen wiping away a tear as a letter by one of Marley’s young cousins was read aloud.
Marley’s parents, Sarah and Jason Peterson, of Bend, attempted to describe the gravity of their loss for the court.
“There are many, many people wishing a slow and painful death for you,” Sarah Peterson said to Fincher. “You will beg for forgiveness. I will never give it to you. … Know in your veins, I do not forgive you. I hate you. I hate your face, your pathetic voice and every fiber of your being.”
Sarah Peterson said her father, Jim, died three months after his granddaughter’s death “of a broken heart” at 62.
“To know that your child’s murderer doesn’t even remember killing your child is so terribly horrific. However, he does remember a woman screaming, ‘You killed my baby.’ In case the voice in your memory is weak, let me remind you,” Sarah Peterson said, and yelled it at him one more time.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org