Photo by Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News Group.
                                Jeromy Ladwig speaks with attorney Charles Hamilton at a sentencing hearing Friday.

Photo by Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News Group. Jeromy Ladwig speaks with attorney Charles Hamilton at a sentencing hearing Friday.

Man gets 12 years for fatal crash

Law blocks sentence sought by prosecutor

A month made a big difference in the sentence for an Oak Harbor man convicted of vehicular homicide.

Jeromy Ladwig, 37, was sentenced to 12 years in prison Friday during a hearing in Island County Superior Court.

Island County Chief Criminal Prosecutor Eric Ohme said he was planning to recommend about twice that sentence, but Ladwig’s attorney realized his client committed the crime before a law increasing the sentencing range was enacted.

The fatal car accident occurred May 2, 2016 on North Whidbey. The law changed June 9.

In court Friday, Ladwig said he loved the victim, 18-year-old Keesha Harden, with all his heart and wishes he could go back and change what happened.

“We were engaged,” he said. “I was four days from being married to the most beautiful girl in the world.”

Ohme argued for the top-of-the-range sentence of 12 years, however.

Ohme said Ladwig, who has a long criminal history, hasn’t shown remorse and hasn’t taken responsibility for his actions.

“He blames everyone else for the tragedy except himself,” he said.

Harden’s mother, Karmen Chastain, spoke in court. She called Ladwig a predator and said he tried to change and control Harden. She said her daughter was hard headed, independent, bright, engaging and charismatic.

“I was so looking forward to seeing her develop into the woman she was going to be or would have been,” she said.

Harden’s grandfather, Richard Harpharn, wrote a letter describing her as a little, fearless girl growing up on his farm. He wrote that Ladwig was a blight on the community.

Ladwig’s attorney, Charles Hamilton of Seattle, said his client was not indifferent to the crime, pointing out that Ladwig was heard saying “baby, my baby” at the scene of the crash.

“I’m confident that he cared for her,” he said, “and I’m confident she was a terrific girl.”

Hamilton argued that his client’s diagnosis with ADHD and bipolar disorder should take into account in determining his sentence.

In sentencing Ladwig, Churchill said she believed Ladwig cared about Harden but aulted him for blaming others for the crash.

The judge noted that tests showed he had methamphetimine in his blood at the time of the collision.

The fatal crash occurred just after 4 a.m.. Ladwig was driving a 2001 Ford Mustang with Harden in the front passenger seat and Randon Koepke in the back seat.

Ladwig “blew through” a stop sign as he accelerated out of the parking lot of Joseph Whidbey State Park and drove into the path of a 2004 Dodge Dakota driven by Nathan Dee of Oak Harbor, Ohme said in during the trial.

The jury found Ladwig guilty of two of the three “prongs” of vehicular homicide statute, namely that he committed the crime “recklessly” and “with disregard for the safety of others.”

The jury was not unanimous on the charge that he committed the crime while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Prior to 2016, the first two prongs carried a lighter sentence range that the DUI prong.

The state legislature changed the law so that the sentencing range for the reckless prong was the same as the DUI version of the crime.

Ohme planned to sentence him under the new law, but then Hamilton realized the crash occurred a month and seven days before the law went into effect.

Submitted photo.
                                Keesha Harden

Submitted photo. Keesha Harden

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