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15-month sentence in crash that killed teacher

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By Diana Hefley
Herald Writer
EVERETT -- A Snohomish County judge on Monday decided an Arlington man deserves to spend time in prison for a 2011 crash that killed Granite Falls school teacher Suzy Armstrong.
Matthew Boitano, 22, had asked the judge for a first-time offender waiver. That would have meant jail time instead of a prison sentence. Boitano was eligible based on his lack of any prior criminal history. He also was a candidate because of how the case was charged.
He was charged with vehicular homicide under the theory that he disregarded the safety of others, not that he was reckless. That makes his conviction a non-violent offense. He pleaded guilty in April.
Superior Court Judge George Bowden acknowledged that Boitano didn't intend to kill Armstrong and there were some reasons to give him the waiver. In the end, however, the judge said he didn't believe a three-month jail sentence was sufficient to hold Boitano accountable for causing the crash that took Armstrong's life.
Boitano was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Under the law he faced a maximum of 20 months.
Armstrong's husband criticized the defendant for asking the court to even consider a more lenient sentence.
"You murdered my wife," Gene Armstrong said. "You don't deserve to ask this court for anything."
The man explained to the judge that he'd been waiting for his wife to get home from work on Sept. 15, 2011. Instead of his wife's car pulling up, he saw a sheriff's deputy stop his patrol car outside the couple's house. The deputy told Armstrong that he needed to get to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. There, doctors told him that his wife wasn't going to survive. She died three days later.
"Suzy, she was my soulmate, my friend. She was every breath of air I took," Gene Armstrong said.
He also talked about how much his wife, a grandmother, loved being a teacher.
Armstrong, 52, had been driving home from Monte Cristo Elementary School, where she taught special education. She had worked in Granite Falls for five years. Much of her first four years were split between Monte Cristo and Mountain Way elementary schools where she was part of a classroom aimed at helping students with learning disabilities transition into regular classrooms.
Before that, she taught for nine years at the Northwest School for Hearing-Impaired Children in Seattle.
"She loved those kids," her husband said Monday.
Snohomish County sheriff's detectives spent months investigating the collision and recreating what happened.
Boitano had been tailgating another vehicle in the 35 mph zone. Witnesses reported that he sped up to 60 mph to overtake the vehicle.
Detectives believe Boitano crested a hill on Jordan Road and instantly smashed into Armstrong. His Ford Explorer wouldn't have been in her view for more than two seconds before the crash. A person's standard reaction time is at least 1½ seconds, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Tobin Darrow wrote in court papers.
The collision sent Boitano's Explorer onto the hood and into the windshield of the smaller car.
When deputies arrived on scene, Boitano was seated in his vehicle. Boitano asked if Armstrong was going to be OK. He told a deputy he had made a mistake.
There was never evidence that Boitano was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Boitano on Monday wiped at tears as Gene Armstrong called what the man did murder.
Boitano later apologized. Armstrong already had left the courtroom.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463;
Story tags » ArlingtonGranite FallsHomicidePunishment

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