Man sentenced to 27 years for 2nd vehicular homicide

TACOMA, Wash. -- A Pierce County judge apologized to the family of the victim of a vehicular homicide on Friday, saying he wished he could have handed down a life sentence.

Instead, James Southard got 27 years for the death, the second man he's killed with his car.

Southard has linked two families in a bond neither widow wished for. Both lost their husbands due to Southard's driving.

Jurene Slick told the court she misses the laugh of her husband Gary, who was killed walking along a Bonney Lake road last year. He was run down by Southard, who left the scene.

"I don't want another family to have to go through this," she said. "What we've gone through and the previous family."

The previous family is that of Shawn Fairbanks. He was killed in a DUI hit and run crash caused by Southard back in 1999 along Puyallup's River Road.

There were predictions back then that this would happened again. Southard served a 10-year sentence for that crime.

"I knew when he got out that he wouldn't have learned and it was going to happen again. I said that when he killed my husband," said Dorri Fairbanks, Shawn's widow.

The prosecutor said this would have been a third strike and automatic life sentence if it hadn't been for a recent US Supreme Court ruling that threw out the blood sample taken from Southard because it was drawn without his permission. It meant a vehicular homicide conviction without being able to add DUI.

"I felt if anyone who comes in front of this court should be subject to the three strikes law it would be you," said Judge Frank Cuthbertson, who said 27 years is the maximum he could hand down.

That 27-year sentence really equates to about 18 years behind bars for good time served. It means Southard will be about 70-years old when he gets out, and that infuriates the widow.

"I was really hoping that he wouldn't have the opportunity to do that again," Jurene said. "And another family would have to go through this."

The prosecutor and defense attorney both say given Southard's poor health, this may well be a life sentence.