PRINEVILLE, Ore. - A 38-year-old Prineville native was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison for an October 2017 drunken and drugged driving crash that killed two of his four passengers.
Justin Dewey Bittick was sentenced by Crook County Circuit Judge Annette Hillman during an emotional hearing. The sentence included no eligibility for any form of early release from custody, as well as three years of post-prison supervision.
A jury heard four days of testimony last month before finding Bittick guilty on all 14 counts, including two counts each of first-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, as well as DUII.
"In reaching their verdict, the jury found Bittick had operated his motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants in a manner that manifested extreme indifference to the value of human life," District Attorney Wade Whiting said in a news release after the sentencing.
Whiting told NewsChannel 21, “I certainly send my deepest sympathies to the victims families. They have been excellent to work with. They have been very patient over the last two years while we can't bring the victims back, this 20-year sentence does bring a measure of closure to the families."
Whiting's news release on the sentencing continues below:
As a result of his reckless driving while impaired, Bittick failed to navigate a turn and drove off the road at a high rate of speed. The vehicle proceeded to roll over multiple times, ejecting all five occupants of the vehicle. Bittick was convicted on two counts of Manslaughter in the First Degree, two counts of Assault in the Third Degree, Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants and numerous other misdemeanor charges.
On Oct. 21, 2017 at about 2:20 a.m., the Crook County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of a fatal car crash on SW Reservoir Road and SW Millican Road near the Juniper Acres subdivision.
When the deputies arrived, the reporting party was on scene attempting to give first aid to the five occupants. All five occupants of the vehicle were ejected from the car during a multiple rollover crash. An Oregon State Police collision reconstructionist later determined none of the five occupants had been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.
When the deputies arrived, they located two deceased males later identified as Caleb Williams (23) and Stephan Leader-Bowles (21) and three surviving occupants. At the scene, the surviving occupants were in critical condition, unable to give statements and were sent via Life Flight to the hospital. Investigating officers responded to the hospital and waited for the patients to stabilize and give statements about how the crash had occurred.
At different dates and locations, two of the surviving passengers regained consciousness and gave similar accounts of how the crash occurred. As the five left a local bar, Stephan Leader-Bowles agreed to drive Bittick’s vehicle because of how intoxicated Bittick presented. When Leader-Bowles missed the turn to Bittick’s house, Bittick demanded he pull over and be allowed to drive the rest of the way. Both survivors described a situation where they did not want Bittick to drive but it was his car and they did not believe they could prevent him from driving.
As Bittick got behind the wheel, all four passengers became extremely fearful for their safety when Bittick stated he was going to drive his vehicle 100 mph and then quickly accelerated. The collision reconstructionist estimated the vehicle was driving at least 58 mph at the time Bittick failed to navigate the turn and left the road. The vehicle swerved and then rolled almost 300 feet before coming to a rest on the hood of the car.
A blood draw from the hospital and later tested by Oregon State Police forensic scientists determined that Bittick’s blood alcohol concentration when admitted to the hospital was .16 which is twice the legal limit of .08 in the State of Oregon. Bittick’s urine also tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine.
At sentencing, Bittick gave a brief statement expressing regret for drinking that night and apologized to the families of the victims, stating, “I understand their families have lost the most. This can never be made right.” Bittick concluded his remarks by saying, “My remorse, apology and regret will never make up for the pain that has been experienced. I pray that God’s mercy and grace will be with us all.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that nationally, more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2017 alone. In that same year, 10,874 people (or about 30 people a day) died as a result of alcohol-impaired driving crashes. It is estimated that the deaths and damages caused by impaired driving contribute to a cost of $44 billion a year.
It is clear that driving under the influence of intoxicants is a major public safety concern nationwide. In Crook County, the district attorney’s office and local law enforcement have stepped up enforcement efforts to better ensure our roads are as safe as possible. In 2016, the Crook County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted 95 driving under the influence cases. In 2018, that number almost doubled to 178 cases of impaired driving. We currently project over 200 driving under the influence cases will be prosecuted in 2019. The message of our joint local law enforcement effort is that drunk driving will not be tolerated in Crook County.
The Crook County District Attorney’s Office would like to send our deepest and most sincere condolences to the families of Caleb Williams and Stephan Leader-Bowles. For almost two years, they patiently waited for this case to proceed through the criminal justice system. The families of the victims gave heartfelt and emotional statements at sentencing describing how deeply they loved and now miss Caleb and Stephan. It is our hope the families can now feel some measure of closure from these tragic losses.
The State of Oregon was represented by District Attorney Wade L. Whiting and Chief Deputy District Attorney Raun Atkinson.