News and Press Releases

QUINAULT TRIBAL MEMBER SENTENCED TO 26 MONTHS IN PRISON FOR CRASH THAT CLAIMED TWO LIVES
Defendant Admitted to Driving Drunk when Car Carrying Seven Young People Crashed into River

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 7, 2008

SELA ANNE KALAMA, 20, of Queets, Washington was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 26 months imprisonment for two counts of Involuntary Manslaughter in connection with a March 18, 2007 car accident that claimed two lives. Upon her release from prison, KALAMA will serve three years of supervised release, the terms of which will include her abstaining from alcohol and performing 200 hours of community service aimed at Native American youth. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle told KALAMA that there was no sentence he could hand down that would punish her more than the profound guilt that she felt at causing the loss of her two friends’ lives.

KALAMA pleaded guilty on December 11, 2007. According to the statement of facts in the plea agreement, KALAMA admitted that in the hours before the accident she consumed numerous bottles of beer, most of which were consumed during a party at a house on the Lower Elwha Klallam Indian Reservation. The reservation is outside of Port Angeles in Clallam County, Washington. Shortly after 3:00 a.m., KALAMA drove her car, with six teenaged passengers, off the Lower Elwha Road and into the Elwha River. KALAMA and four of her passengers escaped from the car and swam to shore. Vanna Francis, 16, and Ronnie Scroggins, 15, were not able to get out of the car and drowned in the river.

The plea agreement also detailed what other witnesses told police. Two of the front seat passengers say that KALAMA was texting on her cell phone before the car crashed into the water. Many of the witnesses report that KALAMA appeared impaired by alcohol at the party, and had been seen consuming multiple beers. KALAMA had even sent one text message about 90 minutes before the car went in the water, which stated, “I’m drunk.” When interviewed by police about eight hours after the accident, KALAMA admitted to being impaired at the time of the accident from having consumed a dozen or more beers in the hours leading up to the fatal drive.

In court today the families of the victims and the defendant all expressed their grief at the tragic loss of life and how everyone’s lives were adversely affected. Judge Settle echoed those thoughts, noting that the sentencing hearing was difficult for everyone in the courtroom. The courtroom was packed with family and friends of the victims from the Lower Elwha Klallam Reservation outside Port Angeles (where Vanna Francis lived) and from the Makah Reservation at Neah Bay (where Ronnie Scroggins lived).

Judge Settle said that he recognized the devastation to Ronnie’s and Vanna’s families and how “the wounds to their spirits will never be fully repaired.” The victims’ “young lives were cut short; they were deprived of all that give us joy in life.” In addressing the societal issue problem of drunk driving, and in particular by those under the legal drinking age, the court said that there “is a reason for our laws. It is so we wouldn’t have days like this, or like March 18, 2007.”

In handing down the 26-month sentence, the court noted that the defendant had no previous criminal history, that she had been on electronic home monitoring with no violations for almost a year, and that the conditions of the road ending at the river “was a contributing factor to this tragedy.” But, he told the defendant, “there must be consequences for your actions” that led to the deaths of the two high- schoolers.

The case was investigated by the FBI, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, and the Lower Elwha Tribal Police. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Gregory A. Gruber and Roger S. Rogoff.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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