A Paso Robles man who caused the deaths of two people at the notorious James Dean death site will avoid jail time after he was sentenced for two misdemeanors Thursday.
As he wiped tears from his eyes, Charles Hutchison, 47, received a 3-year probation term.
Hutchison was driving his Ford F-350 pickup truck east on Highway 46 last March when he made a drastic turn toward a Y-intersection with Highway 41. Because he began his turn well before the intersection, he wound up in the path of an eastbound Chevrolet Silverado containing Mark Montgomery and Lyle Davidson, both 63.
In the collision that followed, both Montgomery and Davidson, two Shafter men headed for a fishing trip, were killed. Hutchison suffered a concussion and was temporarily trapped in his vehicle.
While Hutchison was on pain medication, a CHP report concluded that drug abuse did not appear to be a factor. However, Hutchison’s condition after the crash also made it impossible to conduct motor skills or balance tests. A blood sample was not drawn until six hours after the crash.
Hutchison pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence.
Before a judge read the sentence, Montgomery's widow, Mandee Montgomery, said the case had been mishandled. "I feel Mr. Hutchison should be facing more serious charges," she told the court.
Since she accident, she said, she's lost 30 pounds, can't concentrate on her job and has been in grief counseling.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think of Mark," she said. "I don't think my life will ever be the same without Mark."
Savannah Matthews, a granddaughter of Montgomery's, said he was her hero, whom she saw every day after work. "He molded me into the person I am today," she said. "There will be no more Papa Mark memories made." Brian Davidson said he was supposed to go with his father and Montgomery that day.
"I miss him," Davidson said of his father. "My family misses him very much every day."
Hutchison, who faces a wrongful death suit filed by Mandee Montgomery, did not comment.
According to the CHP, Hutchison’s wife said she begged him not to go to work that morning because he had bronchitis and a 103-degree fever. Doctors, who suspected he might have had valley fever, had prescribed antibiotics for his bronchitis and painkillers for a bad back and knees.
Hutchison’s physician authorized him to drive and perform his regular duties as a heavy equipment operator, the report noted. Hutchison’s wife said her husband had been on the medications at the same dosage for years
Superior Court Judge Donald Umhofer agreed with the probation department, which concluded that Hutchison did not deserve jail time.
The intersection, he said, is confusing, and the accident occurred on a foggy day.
"He's alive," Umhofer said. "He has to live the rest of his life knowing he made a terrible mistake."