DILLON — Anguish.
District Court Judge Loren Tucker wrote the word in his notes several times during the sentencing hearing for Myles Kittleson, a 22-year-old Montana Tech student who caused the death of his roommate in a gruesome crash.
The judge, as well as attorneys for both sides, said this case has been one of the most difficult during their careers.
“We had a glimpse into the kind of anguish we wish didn’t exist in this world,” Tucker said regarding the highly emotional testimony on Thursday in Dillon district court. “It’s a mind-wrenching, gut-wrenching and heart-wrenching case.”
Tucker visibly struggled with the sentence, which he admittedly wrestled with until the minute he read the decision to send Kittleson to the Montana Department of Corrections. Kittleson received a 20-year sentence with 16 years suspended for a felony charge of vehicular homicide while under the influence for the death of Spencer Lewis, of Cut Bank, who was 21 at the time of the wreck on May 3, 2012.
To run concurrently, Tucker also sentenced Kittleson to 10 years with six years suspended for each of two counts of felony negligent vehicular assault for the severe injuries to two other passengers. The judge’s recommendation is placement in the Warm Springs Addiction Treatment and Change (WATCh) program followed by time in a pre-release center.
The focus of the testimony involved one of the passengers in the car, Andrea Spicher, who suffered serious head injuries, among other ailments. Spicher’s family said her recovery hinges on positive energy and appearing in court would have been too difficult. Instead, they spoke of the hardships the family has endured due to Kittleson’s actions.
Kittleson must pay $247,000 in restitution to the Spicher family.
The other victims and their families opted to not participate in the proceedings. Calven Goza is a parapalegic due to a severed spinal cord. Goza, like Spicher, was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the car. Goza, originally from Greeley, Colo., has returned to his studies at Tech.
Dan Spicher repeated some statements his daughter said to him: “I feel like I’ve been robbed — robbed of my mind and my body.” “He was driving — why isn’t he going through this hell?”
A few days before the hearing, Spicher suffered one of many seizures. Her father testified following it, she said, “This is no way to live.”
Immediately after the wreck, she endured 12 hours of surgery in 24 hours, her dad said. Spicher had to learn to talk and walk again after having her skull fractured in the crash.
“It is a constant daily battle. It is grueling but we will not give up on her,” Julie Spicher said, adding that she had to schedule a caregiver to watch her daughter so she could testify at the hearing.
Kittleson was speeding while driving Spicher’s car on state Highway 43, between Dewey and Divide. His blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit. The 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix hit a rock wall on the south side of the roadway and went airborne for 68 feet before rolling several times.
“Only a suicidal maniac would drive like that on that road,” Spicher’s brother, Michael, testified.
Kittleson pleaded guilty to the three felony charges a year after the fatal wreck.
Also in the car that day was Taylor DeBruycker, who was the only person wearing a seat belt, and he suffered minor injuries. Kittleson spoke of DeBruycker, of Fort Benton, in court.
“He’s the only one who remembers everything he had to see. There’s nothing I can do to change that,” Kittleson said, adding his actions impacted everyone in the courtroom and many others.
“Words cannot describe how sorry I am. I apologize from the bottom of my heart.”
Kittleson, who also was convicted of misdemeanor charges of vehicular assault and driving under the influence, suffered serious injuries in the wreck as well. His brain was bruised.
Kittleson’s condition is improving and he returned to Tech in January. He still has no recollection of the wreck.
“I could have saved us all a whole bunch of heartache,” he said, choking back tears.