A man who fled to Ireland to avoid prosecution for killing three college students in a 2001 drunken-driving wreck was sentenced Wednesday to the maximum 14 years and three months in prison.
"You were grossly irresponsible," Whitman County Superior Court Judge David Frazier told Frederick Russell. "You are going to get the maximum sentence under the law. You deserve it. It's as simple as that."
A jury convicted Russell, 29, in November on three counts of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault. He was drunk, speeding and trying to pass in a no-passing zone on a winding road on the night of June 4, 2001, when his vehicle crossed the center line and smashed into a car containing six fellow Washington State University students.
Russell clutched a rosary and stammered often as he addressed his surviving victims and the relatives of those killed, telling them that during the years he spent on the run, he often attended a church where he lit candles for the victims.
"There aren't enough words that could define who your children were, that could define what you've gone through," he said. "I'm sorry; you've been waiting too long to hear that."
Survivors and family members of the victims told the court of the grief Russell put them through.
"Just say you're sorry," said John Wagner, who was seriously injured. "Accept responsibility and let us go on with our lives."
Karen Overacker, whose 22-year-old son, Brandon Clements, was killed, described seeing his body at the morgue, with his legs broken and his face reconstructed with wax and glue.
Russell suffered only minor injuries. He was charged with vehicular homicide and assault but was released on a relatively low bond of $5,000, outraging victims and families.
He failed to show up for a hearing Oct. 26, 2001. According to police, he had sold some baseball cards, gathered other assets and fled to Ireland.
Shortly after he jumped bail, several newspapers received a letter allegedly signed by the fugitive. It said he feared for his life and did not think he would receive a fair trial.
In 2005, the U.S. Marshals Service placed Russell on its most wanted list, the only drunken-driving suspect to make it. A man in Ireland saw the picture and called authorities. Russell fought extradition but was returned to the U.S. in 2006.
According to police reports, Russell had been drinking in a Pullman bar, then got into his Chevy Blazer and drove toward Moscow, Idaho, eight miles to the east. Going 90 mph, Russell tried passing the vehicle the students were in, despite being in a no-passing zone, police said. His vehicle struck an oncoming car, then plowed into the students' car.
At a hospital after the crash, Russell's blood-alcohol level measured 0.12 percent, above Washington state's intoxication threshold of 0.08.
Once released, Russell must serve 18 to 36 months of community supervision, during which he will be required to have an alcohol-detection interlock device installed in his car. Frazier declined to give Russell credit for time he served while awaiting extradition from Ireland.