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Woman in fatal Seaside drunken-driving crash sentenced

Barnett gets more than 13 years in prison
By Jack Heffernan

The Daily Astorian

Published on August 30, 2018 12:18PM

Last changed on August 31, 2018 10:14AM

Corrissa Barnett was charged with manslaughter after a fatal drunken-driving crash in Seaside last September.

Corrissa Barnett was charged with manslaughter after a fatal drunken-driving crash in Seaside last September.

Corrissa Barnett

Corrissa Barnett

A woman who crashed an SUV into a Seaside bus stop shelter while drunk last year, killing one man and critically injuring another, pleaded guilty Thursday to several crimes and was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison.

One night in September, Corrissa Barnett had been drinking heavily while she was with Casey Fulmer, a longtime friend, and some children at Fulmer’s house. Later in the night, she indicated she wanted to leave and take her teenage daughter with her.

When Fulmer tried to prevent her from leaving, Barnett started a fight in which she punched and choked her. Fulmer had taken the keys to the SUV, but Barnett was still able to start the 1999 Dodge Durango and drive away as Fulmer dialed 911.

Seaside police responded to the area, located the Durango — driving at high speed with the headlights off — and attempted to make a traffic stop. Barnett, however, continued driving and partially sideswiped a police car, injuring Officer Elise Parkman.

She kept driving and turned northbound onto Roosevelt Drive. The car jumped a sidewalk outside of McDonald’s restaurant, struck a concrete light pole and slammed into a bus stop shelter occupied by two men.

Robert Miles, 42, of Hammond, died, while the other man, Abdirisak Mohamed, 41, of Longview, Washington, was critically injured.

When police arrived, the street was littered with shattered glass from the damaged bus stop and blood from the two victims. Officers spotted Barnett running toward a bush, where she hid and was soon arrested.

Barnett was taken to the hospital, where her blood alcohol content was more than four times the legal limit for driving, Deputy District Attorney Dawn Buzzard said. She admitted to being the driver and drinking prior to the crash and was taken to the Clatsop County Jail.

Barnett, now 39, pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree manslaughter, three assault counts and driving under the influence of intoxicants as part of a deal with the Clatsop County District Attorney’s Office. She originally faced charges of strangulation, two additional assault counts and three counts of felony failure to perform the duties of a driver. If convicted on all the charges in the indictment, she would have faced at least 16 years in prison.

Barnett was ordered to pay nearly $5,400 in restitution for funeral expenses and medical bills. Her driver’s license has been suspended for life.

Emotional hearing

Several of Miles’ relatives spoke Thursday in Circuit Court. Each of them cried.

“How do I even begin to start?” said Diane Miles, his wife of 20 years.

She recalled the haunting day after the crash when police knocked on her front door to break the news.

“Robert always came back to say, ‘I love you,’ but now I’m never going to hear those words again,” Miles said. “How am I going to do this without him? Who am I without him?”

Miles then addressed Barnett. She talked about how her husband enjoyed a good time, especially when listening to music. He also liked metal detecting, fishing, crabbing and clamming.

“Your decision that night to drive drunk took someone who was so loving and so funny,” Miles said. “His laughter would make you tear up, his stories a little long-worded, but he told them in such a way that you would get into the story.”

Robert Miles called his wife shortly before he was killed, but she didn’t answer. He used to call every day, and she still checks her phone — just in case.

“Now, because of you, I’m left with such guilt of not answering the phone,” Miles said. “What if I just answered it? Would he still be here? Why didn’t I just go pick him up? All he wanted was to be with me. Your decision that night made me feel so guilty.”

Jim Miles, Robert Miles’ brother, asked Barnett to seek treatment for alcohol abuse. Travis Gosser, his nephew, wrote a statement describing Robert Miles as his best friend and confidant. Donna Gosser, his sister, talked about watching him walk away after a fight soon before he died.

“Driving by that bus stop, driving by any bus stop, is a memory that I’ll never get out of my head,” Donna Gosser said.

Diane Miles’ last image of her husband is his lifeless body on a cold table, with his face bruised and scraped and shards of glass in his hair. He hated being cold, she said.

Now, Miles and her three children have been forever changed and are still living a nightmare, she said. She keeps an urn full of her husband’s ashes beside her bed.

“It’s not fair. Why didn’t you just stop? You had the chance to stop so many times,” Miles said to Barnett. “So many lives changed because of your decision. Even your family has to live with the shame and guilt knowing that you killed someone’s husband and father, sibling and friend.

“The only difference is that they’ll be able to see you and hear you and touch you, unlike my family, who will never get that chance anymore.”

Buzzard talked a bit about Mohamed, who was unable to attend the court hearing. She visited him nine months after the crash, the first day he was able to walk with a walker instead of a wheelchair. An immigrant to America who had fled persecution, Mohamed established a stable life as an apartment cleaner. It is unclear whether Mohamed will be able to continue the work or how he will be able to support himself.

“Frankly, he’s a pretty generous man, and he was pretty forgiving,” Buzzard said.

Buzzard described Officer Parkman, who took time off work for her injuries, as “shaken.”

“This is a very, obviously, difficult day for everyone in this courtroom, and the real tragedy is that it absolutely, 100 percent could have been avoided,” Buzzard said. “It should be a reminder not just to Ms. Barnett, who I think is paying a pretty big price for this, but for everybody who thinks that drinking and driving in a little town is, like, not a big deal.”

Barnett’s sister, Cassi, and her father, Steve, also spoke Thursday.

Corrissa Barnett’s life changed more than a decade ago after she fell and hit her head, causing chronic pain, her family said. She became addicted to drugs prescribed for the pain, went to a rehabilitation facility and later developed an alcohol addiction in its place, her sister said.

“With the help of her prescribing doctor, here lies the beginning of Corrie’s transformation from a strong, independent, organized mother, daughter, sister, auntie, niece and cousin, to a damaged, dependent, shattered, tiny shell of a human struggling each day with pain while growing more and more dependent,” Cassi Barnett said.

Barnett’s sister added that a head injury sustained in the altercation with Fulmer likely impaired her judgment before the crash.

Steve Barnett is a former lieutenant with the Seaside Police Department who unsuccessfully ran for county sheriff in 2012 and retired in 2016. He filed a federal lawsuit against District Attorney Josh Marquis, claiming his free speech and due process rights were violated when Marquis refused to use Barnett as a witness in prosecutions because of concerns about the officer’s credibility. A federal appeals court ruled in 2016 that Marquis had absolute immunity from the lawsuit.

“And also, our family holds high regard and respect for the judicial system, and we do hope that Corrie’s sentencing is, she is being sentenced as an individual — and not being held accountable for the reputation and relationship her father … and the district attorney’s office have had in the past,” Cassi Barnett said.

Steve Barnett, who did not originally plan to speak in court, offered an unscripted statement that went on for more than 10 minutes. Sitting next to prosecutors, he spent much of it facing Miles’ family, though Buzzard at one point asked Judge Cindee Matyas to have him face the judge.

He said his daughter has never been a “problem child,” save one drunken-driving arrest in 2014, when she recorded a blood alcohol content of 0.31 percent. The misdemeanor charge was dismissed after Barnett completed a DUII diversion program.

The veteran police officer noted that his work schedule may have left her feeling neglected as a child, possibly leading to substance abuse. He said Clatsop County encourages alcohol abuse more than most counties in the state, citing statements made by Ron Brown, Marquis’ chief deputy, who will become district attorney in January.

“We drag our feet in our county,” Steve Barnett said.

He then called the length of the court case “borderline cruelty” since his daughter’s first lawyer — court-appointed attorney Temojai Inhofe — quit the case.

“I don’t condone a thing that (my daughter) has done in reference to this incident. I don’t condone any of the actions taken by the officers. I don’t condone any of the actions taken that have been taken by any of the court,” Steve Barnett said.

He closed by turning to Buzzard, claiming his daughter had a drunken-driving incident months before the fatal crash that did not lead to an arrest. “One thing that is infuriating me as member of law enforcement — retired — and you as a member of law enforcement is that somebody has failed to do their job and that we would not even be here today if the Seaside Police Department would’ve took action against her for her DUII about six months before this fatal crash,” he claimed. “And if they would have done that, instead of being a lazy, irresponsible apathetic individual, we would not be here.”

‘I took a life’

After saying he loved her and that she is salvageable, Steve Barnett stepped down and Corrissa Barnett spoke. In her apologies to Miles and Mohamed, she read two poems she had written in jail.

“This is the way I chose to say sorry, because how do you say sorry in this situation?” Barnett said before reading.

“I took a life. I shattered it in the night. I blew out his candle, and I took away your light,” read part of the poem to Miles’ family. “I’m also sorry for the mess I’ve made. If I could trade my life, I would make the trade.”

Before issuing the prison sentence, Matyas said trying to correlate the length with the cost of a death is “ridiculous.”

“I don’t have a lot to add to what’s been said,” the judge said. “This is incredibly sad on every level, and there’s nothing that the court can do to even touch that sadness.”


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