PRINEVILLE — Justin Dewey Bittick doesn’t remember the night of Oct. 20, 2017, the night his drunken driving killed two people and gravely injured two others.
Before she sentenced him Thursday, Crook County Circuit Judge Annette Hillman told Bittick “maybe that’s a blessing for you.”
“I will say, there is nothing we can do to bring your victims back,” she said. “Now you must live with the eternal consequences of your actions.”
Bittick appeared for sentencing inside stately Courtroom A on the top floor of the historic Crook County Courthouse, where Hillman gave him 20 years in prison for showing extreme indifference while causing the fatal rollover crash. The maximum he could have received was 29 years; the minimum, 10 years.
Bittick was further ordered to pay $88,000 in restitution, and his driving privileges were revoked for life.
“Mr. Bittick’s claim of not being able to recall the crash does not make the results any less real for us,” said Amy Nelson, mother of Caleb Austin Williams, who was killed in the crash.
Oct. 20, 2017, was Bittick’s 37th birthday. He went out that night by himself to the Horseshoe Saloon in Prineville. Four others would join him at his table as the night wore on — Williams, 23, Stephan Mitchell Leader-Bowles, 21, Corrine Hatchell, 46, and Alex Shaver, 21.
Shaver and Leader-Bowles were best friends, and Shaver knew Hatchell. None of them had met Williams before, but he was “friendly” and “talkative,” survivors testified at Bittick’s jury trial in early June.
Bittick invited the four new friends back to his place. About 12:30 a.m., they left with Bittick in his 1987 Nissan Maxima.
The survivors testified at trial that Leader-Bowles drove because he was sober and Bittick was visibly intoxicated. But as they neared Bittick’s home, Leader-Bowles became lost. At this, Bittick became “irate,” demanding he complete the drive. Leader-Bowles pulled over and switched seats with Bittick, according to trial testimony.
Shaver and Hatchell stated the group was reluctant to allow Bittick to drive but did so because he claimed they were only a mile from his house.
Bittick proceeded to drive erratically and at high speeds, blowing past his street and asking, “Who wants to see me go 100 mph?” The two survivors testified everyone in the car was terrified.
About 2:22 a.m., a rollover crash was reported about 20 miles southwest of Prineville on Reservoir Road. A car had left the road rounding a turn and rolled several times. Emergency personnel arrived to find all five riders thrown clear of the vehicle. Leader-Bowles had been killed instantly. Williams died as first responders performed rescue breathing on him.
Bittick, Shaver and Hatchell were severely injured and transported to hospitals.
All were intubated and unable to provide statements. It was two months before Bittick was charged in the wreck.
A crash reconstruction expert determined the lowest speed Bittick could have been driving as he attempted the last turn he took was 58 mph. None of the riders was wearing seat belts. Alcohol and speed were determined to have been factors in the crash.
The jury in Bittick’s trial ultimately found him guilty of all 14 counts.
Crook District Attorney Wade Whiting on Thursday asked Hillman to assign Bittick 23 years in prison.
“This was a completely avoidable tragedy,” Whiting said. “The defendant went to the Horseshoe and chose to drink without a plan to get home. And with a blood alcohol level two times the legal limit, he chose to drive fast and without concern for his passengers.”
Bittick wore orange jail clothes, glasses and a scruffy beard. He sat expressionless through much of Thursday’s hearing and only turned his head slightly to watch people read victim impact statements.
“I wonder what Stephan would have accomplished in his life,” said Leader-Bowles’ great-grandmother, Grace Frederickson. “He told me he wanted to go to college, to be a good father to his daughter, to help his family however he could. Everybody tells me he is in a better place. But I’m selfish — I want him here!”
Leader-Bowles’ grandmother, Mylinda Awmiller, spoke next.
“He was the light of my life,” she said. “Stephan and I had a special bond that can never be replaced. Losing Stephan in this tragic way has changed my life forever.”
Bittick was seriously injured in the crash, his attorney, John L. Susac, said.
His flat affect noticed by some at trial was a result of a traumatic brain injury, not a lack of sympathy or concern, Susac told the judge.
“He’s not aloof or distant or uncaring — far from it,” Susac said. “It’s just hard to feel true regret when you don’t remember anything.”
Redmond resident Kara Roatch asked the judge for sympathy for her uncle, Justin Bittick. She called him a sensitive man who teared up at her childhood birthday parties and her high school graduation.
Following the crash, the Horseshoe Saloon lost its liquor license, and the server who served Bittick was reprimanded by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The business has since been sold to new owners.
Following the hearing, relatives of the victims stood around the front steps of the Crook County Courthouse building.
Janette Leader-Bowles, mother of Stephan Leader-Bowles, said one small blessing from the tragedy is her new friendship with Amy Nelson, mother of Caleb Williams, whom she didn’t know before the crash that killed their sons. The pain of losing a child is something few people understand, Bowles said.
Williams would have been 26 at the time of Bittick’s sentencing.
Stephan Leader-Bowles, who had a daughter, Maisie, would have been 23.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org