A 29-year-old Olympia man has been sentenced to a year in prison after he hit a van in Central Park at about 80 mph after trying to pass on the shoulder Oct. 16. His 4-year-old son was in the car at the time.
Jeremy K. Buettgenbach pleaded guilty to vehicular assault on Dec. 17 in Grays Harbor Superior Court. The conviction will count as a strike offense; two more and Buettgenbach could get a life sentence.
Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Gerald Fuller asked for only nine months in his sentencing recommendation, but Judge David Edwards used his discretion to sentence Buettgenbach beyond what was agreed to in his plea agreement. He went to the top of the standard range of six to 12 months.
“Basically Mr. Buettgenbach put his 4-year-old son in a car seat and took off from Olympia at warp speed,” Fuller summed up the case. “I have yet to hear an explanation as to why he was in so big a hurry to get there.”
The Washington State Patrol received a call about a driver westbound on Highway 8, later identified as Buettgenbach, driving erratically at speeds of more than 100 mph.
Buettgenbach hit a van also traveling westbound on Highway 12 near Deer Park Drive. A witness estimated Buettgenbach was driving about 80 mph as he attempted to pass on the right on the shoulder, colliding with the rear end of the van as he attempted to re-enter traffic. The driver of the van was taken to Grays Harbor Community Hospital with two fractured vertebrae.
Based on the distance traveled between the first reports and the collision, Fuller estimated Buettgenbach was traveling at about 90 mph.
A trooper administered field sobriety tests and concluded Buettgenbach was under the influence. A drug recognition expert later determined he “appeared to be under the influence of central nervous system stimulants and narcotic analgesics,” according to court documents.
The victim appeared at sentencing with a cane and submitted a victim impact statement to the court.
“When my van finally stopped moving I thought, ‘Man, I’m still alive,’ ” he wrote.
“My life and my wife’s life have been turned upside down. This has been a devastating experience to my entire family … I thought I was going to die,” the victim added. He said his daughter and grandson were terrified when they saw the wreck coming eastbound on Highway 12 that day.
At his sentencing Monday, Buettgenbach apologized for his actions.
“I’m extremely sorry for what happened,” he told the court. “I wish I would have stayed in bed that day.”
“Why did this happen?” Edwards asked Buettgenbach.
“There’s really not a good enough excuse that I can give,” he replied. “I didn’t feel good, your honor, honestly. That’s really all I can say.”
Buettgenbach explained he was on his way to Aberdeen to stay with a friend, but had no reason for why he was driving the way he was. He said he did not look at his speedometer.
“You had your 4-year-old son, and you were traveling I’m being told in excess of 90 mph. … You’re really quite fortunate that you’re not standing here today being sentenced for a vehicular homicide or two,” Edwards said.