A driver must serve four years in prison for fleeing a crash that killed a bicyclist last year in Blaine, a Whatcom County judge ruled Wednesday, March 30.
A pickup driven by Andrey Sergeyvich Kirichkov, 27, crashed into a man on a bike around 5:30 p.m. Jan. 22, 2015, at the intersection of State Route 543 and H Street.
The cyclist, Douglas Oliver Benton, died at the scene from chest trauma. He was 53.
That evening Benton had been wearing dark clothes, and he did not have a helmet on. His green Murray Park Lane bike wasn’t equipped with flashing lights, but it had reflectors on the pedals, wheels and the front.
One witness, a Canadian woman stopped in a southbound left-turn lane, told troopers the cyclist crossed the intersection against a red light, riding diagonally from southwest to northeast. The truck, she added, seemed to be going at “a high rate of speed.”
After the crash, the Ford continued north and appeared to turn left onto D Street.
Close to 2 ½ hours later a man walked up to the scene looking “like he was about to be sick,” according to charging papers. He told a state trooper he wanted to turn himself in.
“I know I hit him,” Kirichkov said, according to charging papers. “I saw the bike at the last minute.”
Kirichkov showed no signs of being impaired. That day he’d gone to work, picked up food from McDonald’s in Bellingham, stopped by a video game store, and got coffee, according to his public defender. On the drive back to his family’s home on E Street, less than a half-mile from the crash, he exited the freeway at SR 543.
At the time his license was suspended.
After the crash Kirichkov parked down the street from the home, he told state troopers. He checked The Bellingham Herald website to see if the media had picked up the story, according to the county prosecutor’s office. He moved the truck once he decided to turn himself in.
Outside the house that night, troopers found the green ’93 Ford Ranger with severe damage to the passenger side windshield and headlight. The truck belonged to Kirichkov’s father, Sergey, who was out of state for work at the time.
Andrey Kirichkov pleaded guilty to hit and run in a fatality accident on March 3.
This was no accident. This defendant made a decision to drive again on his suspended license, and now my brother is dead.
Court records show Kirichkov, a self-employed contractor, has a decade-long history of driving offenses. Since 2005, he has been convicted of driving with a suspended license nine times. Twice he has been convicted of reckless driving. He’d been ticketed at least four times for speeding 20 mph above the limit, and four more times for driving at least 10 mph over.
At a sentencing hearing on Wednesday morning, Benton’s family held up poster-sized photo collages for the judge to see, as a niece, an ex-wife, and a sister spoke at length about the loss of Doug Benton.
Benton, a longtime commercial fisherman, rode his bike everywhere because he had lost his license to drive, too, said his niece, Kassondra Schueman — drawing a contrast with Kirichkov’s decision to drive that evening.
“The defendant knew that every time he got in an uninsured car and drove without a license, he was risking being caught and possibly taken to jail,” she said. “The atrocity here is that the city and county administered so many lenient penalties that the defendant continued living in his cycle of driving, being caught, fined, and let go.”
Kirichkov furrowed his brow as he listened.
“I have cried every day since Doug’s death,” said Benton’s sister, Leandra Matson. “Everywhere I go I see things that remind me of him.”
She believes the case should have been pursued as a vehicular homicide.
“This was no accident,” Matson said. “This defendant made a decision to drive again on his suspended license, and now my brother is dead.”
The chief deputy public defender, Starck Follis, argued that no evidence supports a vehicular homicide charge — since Kirichkov had a green light and no time to react — and that the state never filed such a charge.
“He is a young man who panicked and behaved poorly, but did not flee the jurisdiction or deny his involvement in any way,” the public defender argued.
Kirichkov, a permanent U.S. resident but not a citizen, has lived in this country since he was 2 years old. He could be deported as a result of his felony conviction, Follis wrote.
He wore a blue dress shirt and a striped tie as he spoke to the judge and Benton’s family on Wednesday, without bringing prepared remarks to court. He said he’d gone over the events of that night every day for the past year.
“As we all know panic is a strong emotion,” he said, “and when that comes over (you), whatever your mind goes to first that’s what you take care of first. I sincerely apologize, I’m sorry for this accident. I wish something could’ve been done differently. At this moment I’m at the state’s mercy.”
State law allows for a prison sentence of 36 to 48 months, for someone with his history. None of Kirichkov’s past offenses are felonies.
Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder handed down a sentence of 48 months.
“A person has died as a result of this,” Snyder said. “You can see, Mr. Kirichkov, the kind of an impact that has, and how deep it reaches, and how many people it impacts?”
“Not just you,” the judge continued, “not just Mr. Benton, but all of the family members.”