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Fatal crash: Thomas sentenced to 90 days in jail, restitution

Cecil Thomas is escorted from a courtroom in Kitsap County District Court following his sentence for driving with a suspended license on Sept. 23, 2011. Thomas was driving a vehicle that was hit by a motorcycle driven by Benjamin Robison on Hansville Road as he turned on to NE Three Berry Lane.  - Kipp Robertson/ Herald
Cecil Thomas is escorted from a courtroom in Kitsap County District Court following his sentence for driving with a suspended license on Sept. 23, 2011. Thomas was driving a vehicle that was hit by a motorcycle driven by Benjamin Robison on Hansville Road as he turned on to NE Three Berry Lane.
— image credit: Kipp Robertson/ Herald

PORT ORCHARD — Benjamin Robison’s Yamaha motorcycle collided with a Jeep Cherokee Sept. 23 on Hansville Road. The driver of the Jeep, Cecil Thomas, was turning left on to NE Three Berry Road when the motorcycle hit the front end of his vehicle.

Robison died at 12:02 p.m. that day from the injuries he sustained.

Tuesday morning, Thomas, 48, was sentenced to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine and restitution of $24,492, the amount the Robison family still owes in insurance costs.

“I can’t change what happened,” Thomas said in the courtroom. “But I will take care of everything I can.”

Thomas’ charge was driving with a suspended license in the third degree. Ninety days in jail is the maximum sentence. It is his third driving-with-suspended-license offense.

Thomas asked that his sentence be suspended three weeks so he could get things in order before going to county jail. Following the judge’s sentence, Thomas was immediately taken into custody.

Robison’s father, James, wanted Thomas charged with a felony, he said following the sentencing. He said there has been no “ownership” to what Thomas did that day.

“The time in jail doesn’t matter,” James Robison said. “We wanted him to never forget.”

The Robison family had hoped Thomas would be prosecuted for vehicular homicide. But in speaking with the prosecuting attorney’s office, it was determined that finding Thomas guilty of vehicular homicide was out of reach — the defense would need to ask one simple question of the jury: How many of those jurors have turned their heads to look at something while driving?

Benjamin Robison was 21. He was a car enthusiast and worked part-time at BAE Systems at Naval Base Kitsap — Keyport. He graduated from Kingston High School in 2008 and had finished his prerequisites for the mechanical engineering program at the University of Washington in the 2010-11 school year. He would have been a senior at the UW.

Prior to the collision

Prior to the collision, Deputy Scott Jensen was preparing to pull Thomas over for a suspended license, according to a report prepared by Deputy Dave Green of the Traffic Investigation Division of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.

Jensen conducted a Department of Licensing registration check on Thomas’s Jeep Cherokee and a DOL check on Thomas, the registered owner of the vehicle in the parking lot of Kingston Albertsons. Jensen learned Thomas was driving on a suspended license because of unpaid tickets.

According to reports received from the Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Thomas’s license had been suspended  because of unpaid tickets and there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest.

Jensen followed Thomas out of the parking lot, via a right turn on to westbound State Route 104, the gas station entrance/exit. Jensen was about 10 vehicles behind Thomas on SR 104 and intended to stop the Jeep after getting closer. However, “due to a high volume of traffic and the lack of a safe place to pass [other vehicles], [Deputy Jensen] waited and continued to follow the Jeep westbound.”

According to the investigation report, Jensen “lost sight” of the Jeep as he approached the intersection of SR 104 and SR 307. After looking in the gas station parking lot — Striebels Corner — and south along SR 307, Jensen continued westbound on SR 104 to Gamble Bay Road.

In the report, Jensen “realized people trying to avoid the police often drive on back roads to keep from being stopped,” which is why he circled around to Hansville Road via Gamble Bay Road and 288th Street. Jensen took a right from 288th to Hansville Road and then another right on to NE Three Berry Lane, where Thomas lives.

After pulling into Thomas’ driveway and seeing the Jeep had not returned home, Jensen proceeded to back out of the driveway on to NE Three Berry Lane. At that time, the deputy “overheard a loud crash.” Looking toward Hansville Road, Jensen saw Thomas’s Jeep pulling into NE Three Berry Lane and “debris flying through the air.”

According to Thomas

Thomas told investigators he was working on the Jeep, trying to get it running well so his son could use it as a vehicle when he returns from school, according to the investigation documents. He had driven the Jeep for a few weeks and it seemed to be running well. Thomas said he had not put the Jeep onto his insurance policy yet.

Thomas said he was running errands and was returning home when the crash occurred. He had gone to the Albertsons Express gas station, where he checked the tire pressure on the left front tire. From the gas station, he drove to Striebels Deli Mart Texaco gas station at the corner of SR 104 and SR 307 to “drop something off,” according to the report. Thomas then drove the Jeep home, first eastbound on SR 104 and then north on to Hansville Road.

As he reached NE Three Berry Lane, Thomas saw a red Jeep Cherokee approaching him, traveling southbound. He slowed and looked left onto the lane where he saw Jensen backing out of his driveway. He turned left onto the lane, which is when Robison’s motorcycle, heading southbound, struck the front-right fender of his Jeep.

According to the investigation report, Thomas “went into shock, realizing that he’d just turned in front of the motorcycle without seeing [Robison].” He reportedly said he never saw the motorcycle coming and “was too focused on the patrol car that was on NE Three Berry Lane.”

In the report, Thomas is described as remorseful and visibly shaken.

Thomas willingly provided a blood sample. The results returned negative for alcohol or drugs. Thomas was arrested for his outstanding warrant.

According to a witness

A witness, who will remain anonymous, was traveling behind Robison when the collision occurred. According to documents, the witness was driving just about the posted speed limit of 45 mph, southbound on Hansville Road. The witness had followed Robison “for a while,” maintaining the “same following distance behind [Robison].”

As the witness approached a change in speed limit of 35 mph, she had started to “think about slowing for that speed limit.” According to reports, Robison and the witness appeared to be going a similar speed.

The witness saw Thomas’s Jeep approaching NE Three Berry Lane, northbound. When the motorcycle reached the intersection, “the Jeep suddenly turned left directly in front of [Robison].” The witness does not believe Robison had time to react — no swerving and no brake lights prior to the collision. The witness added she did not remember seeing the Jeep’s turn signal flashing.

According to Deputy Dave Green’s report, “this collision occurred due to [Thomas’s] inattention and failure to recognize a motorcycle approaching in the opposite direction. [Thomas] failed to yield the right-of-way to [Robison], causing this collision and the resulting injuries caused Robison’s death.”

 

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