Driver gets 18 months for fatal crash near Lynden

A Lynden-area man must spend 18 months in prison for a crash in rural Whatcom County that killed a Canadian motorcyclist and seriously injured her husband.

Derek Gary Tiemersma, 22, left his home on Kettle Way, a few miles northwest of Lynden, around 8:45 a.m. on his way to work on a farm on a Saturday morning, Sept. 27, 2014, according to charging papers.

Court records show he was driving a black ’99 Chevrolet K1 pickup south on Sunrise Road when he ran a stop sign at West Badger Road, failing to yield for an eastbound Triumph motorcycle carrying a couple from Surrey, B.C. They had the right of way.

The motorcycle crashed into the passenger side of the pickup. The husband and wife were thrown from the bike. The passenger, Beverly Raginski, died later at St. Joseph hospital. She was 62.

Her partner of 42 years, Michael S. Caldwell, suffered broken bones and other severe injuries but survived. He had been driving.

A witness in a pickup headed west on Badger saw the crash from a couple hundred feet away. He told troopers the Chevy blew through the stop sign at about 40 mph.

This isn’t a case that should focus on rehabilitation, because quite honestly these are just choices. It’s the choice of a young man getting behind the wheel of a car and saying: Today I’m not going to drive my car safely.

Christopher Quinn, deputy prosecutor

Months passed before Tiemersma was formally charged with vehicular homicide and vehicular assault. He entered a guilty plea in February to manslaughter in the second degree, reckless driving and hit and run of attended property.

On Thursday morning, March 3, he stood before Judge Charles Snyder to be sentenced. First, a support officer read aloud a statement from Raginski’s husband.

Caldwell, 62, recalled in the letter how the best part of coming home used to be seeing his wife, a retired nurse, at the top of the stairs, holding a cat in her arms, and saying, “Michael’s home!”

“I don’t get to hear that anymore,” he wrote. “The house is very quiet.”

The couple had plans to travel the South in a camper in the winter, and to visit family and friends in the summertime. Those plans and other dreams of retired life were dashed in a matter of seconds, the letter stated. On the day of the crash they were driving to Sumas and Acme, to meet friends and to eat breakfast.

“There is no ‘fair’ sentence,” Caldwell told the judge in writing. “He needs to realize the severity of his actions. Whatever you are contemplating, it’s not enough.”

Tiemersma had no felony history, but he’d been ticketed for moving violations nine times in the past 5 years. The deputy prosecutor, Christopher Quinn, said there was no sign of mental health or substance abuse problems that were causing his pattern of driving offenses.

“This isn’t a case that should focus on rehabilitation, because quite honestly these are just choices,” Quinn said. “It’s the choice of a young man getting behind the wheel of a car and saying: Today I’m not going to drive my car safely.”

Tiemersma, 6 feet tall with a dark chinstrap beard, broke into tears as he addressed the judge with a written statement.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “for how much my mistake in this accident has affected so many people.”

A plea deal reached by Quinn and Tiemersma’s defense attorney, Doug Hyldahl, suggested a sentence of 18 months in prison and 18 months on probation. That is the standard sentence for a first-time offender of vehicular homicide, a class A felony. (Tiemersma technically admitted to the manslaughter charge, a class B felony, so he could have a chance of getting his civil rights restored in the future.)

Judge Snyder approved the sentence.

“I hope that when people hear about this story — friends, family, people reading the paper — they say, ‘Boy, was it worth it to not to slow down at an intersection?’” Quinn told the court. “Maybe it’ll make them think twice.”

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb