A Westport man who killed another man following a road rage incident in October 2018 was sentenced Friday to more than six years in prison.
Jeffrey Craig Stone, 68, killed Curtis Michael Russell, 22, of Longview, Washington, after running him over with his Dodge truck and dragging his body for about a quarter-mile.
Stone was charged with murder, manslaughter in the first degree, two counts of attempted assault in the first degree, failure to perform duties of a driver, driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving and two counts of recklessly endangering another person.
After numerous settlement conferences, Stone on Friday pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide, a downgrade from the murder charge. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of recklessly endangering another person and DUII.
Stone, once the chief of the Westport Volunteer Fire Department, was convicted of first-degree arson and first-degree theft and sentenced to 17 months in prison after he set fire to business records in 2004 after he was accused of embezzlement.
On Halloween 2018, Russell was driving west on U.S. Highway 30 near Westport when he came up behind Stone’s vehicle and noticed signs of drunken driving, District Attorney Ron Brown said in court.
Russell, who had passengers in the vehicle, passed Stone, and, as he did, Brown said it seemed to them that Stone brushed Russell’s vehicle.
Russell pulled over to exchange information, but, according to Brown, Stone kept driving toward Westport until turning right onto Old Mill Town Road.
Russell followed Stone and then passed and blocked Stone’s pickup truck. Brown said Russell and his passengers got out of the vehicle and Russell circled the pickup with a bat and struck it several times, causing dents.
“So I believe the defendant could have backed up and left the scene,” Brown said. “But instead, backed his vehicle and then drove, according to one witness, towards Curtis, who had returned to being in front of the defendant’s vehicle.”
He said Stone stopped quickly and backed up again. Stone hit Russell, knocking him under the truck and dragging him by his feet for about a quarter-mile with his body wedged under the pickup. Russell died at the scene from blunt force trauma.
Stone drove home and later returned to the scene and cooperated with police.
“This has been a very difficult case,” Brown said. “We appreciate Judge (Henry) Kantor’s time and his willingness to be a settlement judge, and we think that’s probably why we ended up agreeing to this.”
Russell’s widow, Natasha Russell, filed a wrongful death claim last October against Alston Pub and Grub in Rainier, where Stone was drinking prior to the incident. The lawsuit, filed in Columbia County Circuit Court, seeks $2.6 million.
Natasha Russell and others in Russell’s family described how that day forever changed their lives.
“The day my husband was dragged to his death, you took my entire future from me,” Russell said. “But more than that, you took my son and stepdaughter’s chance to ever make a memory with their dad.
“Every single day, I wake up and I look at the gift that Curtis gave me as he tells me, ‘Good morning, mama.’ It reminds me every second he’ll never get with the best man this world could have ever given me.
“The mental damage you have caused everyone I love is unforgivable,” she said. “There’s so much wrong in this life we live now, but for Curtis, I’m fighting every day for the good.
“Today, I get peace. Today, I get to know that for a moment I gave it all to find justice for my best friend, to save my brothers from reliving a nightmare, and for knowing that my mother-in-law can have just a moment of relief.”
Judge Cindee Matyas, who presided over the sentencing, said that although the criminal justice system can resolve the criminal charges, the process cannot adequately respond to the loss.
“You all appear to be extremely strong and determined,” Matyas said. “And I just hope that the love you keep in your heart for Mr. Russell will be a source of strength to you.
“I want to thank the parties for their effort in working to resolve this case. The challenge with any trial is just the uncertainty of the outcome. And Mr. Stone, you’re taking responsibility for these charges today does something to give some relief to the family members who have been waiting for years now.”