Judge gives Sanostee man minimum sentence for brother’s death in DWI crash

  • Tavis Washburn will spend just under six years in prison for killing his brother and injuring his 2-year-old son in the crash
  • The plea deal allowed for a sentence of 6 to 10 years and without it, Washburn faced a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years
  • He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.258 when he crashed, over three times the legal limit, while driving 79-85 mph
  • A judge sent Washburn back to jail, prior to sentencing, after he began drinking excessively at a halfway house

Read the full case write-up here

SANTA FE, N.M. — Tavis Washburn will spend just under six years in prison after a federal District Court judge sentenced him to the minimum allowed under a plea deal for killing his brother in drunk driving crash.

District Court Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Washburn, 27, on March 13, 2020, to 71 months in prison, just under six years.

According to court documents, the crash killed Orlando Wadsworth, 37, of Sanostee, severely injured Washburn’s 2-year-old son and injured a third man, only identified as A.J., driving the truck Washburn hit, on Feb. 15, 2018. Wadsworth had to be extricated from the passenger seat of the red Kia Washburn was driving. Although he was flown to a hospital, he died from his injuries. Washburn had a blood-alcohol level of 0.258 after the crash.

Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Kalon Fancher charged Washburn 10 months after the crash, on Oct. 24, 2018. On Nov. 13, 2018, federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter ordered Washburn released on pretrial release at a halfway house in Albuquerque. Washburn was later arrested sometime after Dec. 2, 2019, after he was found, twice, to have been heavily drinking.

Federal prosecutor Allison Jaros did not request a specific sentence, other than within the range of six to 10 years allowed under the plea deal, while Washburn’s attorney, Alejandro Fernandez, asked for the minimum in a sentencing memorandum dated Oct. 21, 2019.

According to the sentencing minute sheet, Washburn addressed the court, as did the “Victim’s representative.” The entire hearing lasted one hour and two minutes. Neither the minutes nor the judgement state why Vazquez sentenced Washburn to the minimum allowed under the plea.

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Sentencing argument

Jaros wrote in a sentencing memorandum, submitted Nov. 22, 2019, that the plea allowed Washburn to avoid a minimum sentence of 10 years for a assault on a minor resulting in serious bodily injury charge.

The involuntary manslaughter charge carried a maximum sentence of eight years. He was not charged for injuries to A.J., driving the vehicle he hit, according to court documents.

Although the evidence against Washburn was strong, “neither victim favored prosecution,” Jaros wrote.

Although two of the three victims were related to Washburn, and those were the ones he was charged for hurting and killing, one was dead and the other was 2 at the time of the crash.

Jaros did not write how a dead man and a toddler could favor prosecution.

The two accident reconstructionists disagreed on the pickup truck driver, A.J.’s, role in the crash and he was never charged because of that disagreement, she wrote.

A.J. admitted to drinking three Bud Lights prior to being hit, according to court documents.

Jaros wrote that Washburn’s previous conviction for drunk driving, and that his child was previously in the car during a drunk driving incident, were aggravating factors to be considered.

She wrote that the 2-year-old’s broken leg has “not grown at the same rate as the right leg bones, resulting in his hips being uneven.” However, “it is not clear” if the child will have his future movement ability affected or if he will require more treatment.

Fernandez wrote in a sentencing memorandum submitted Oct. 21, 2019, that the crash plays in Washburn’s mind in a “relentless loop.”

Fernandez requested a sentence of 71 months, just under six years, the minimum allowed under the plea deal.

Washburn wrote in an undated letter to the court that he was at the La Pasada Halfway House, had been there for a year, and was working two jobs to provide for his 3-year-old son and a newborn.

“The day the accident happened has made a huge impact on me and my family,” he wrote. “I always wished it never happened. My oldest brother was the passenger and is now deceased from the accident. My son being injured hurts me knowing he was part of it. He had fully healed from the injuries and is now back to normal.”

This assertion, that his child is “now back to normal” is contradicted by Jaros’ sentencing memo, which states the opposite.

Washburn wrote that he became addicted to alcohol for three years after his mother died, but he no longer misses the feeling or taste and thinks about his family and his future as a father.

“Please give me the least amount of time to serve so I can attend college and also provide for my two boys,” he wrote. “I believe I am a good person. I help those in need, I donate what is needed to strangers and feel good doing so.”

The crash

Read more about the crash in the case write-up

On Feb. 15, 2018, Tavis Washburn went to see his brother, Wadsworth, to “have some drinks.” That drinking apparently continued late into the night, until finally, Washburn crashed into a truck leaving the Littlewater Express gas station on Highway 491, according to an affidavit for a criminal complaint written by FBI Agent Kalon Fancher.

After running a series of errands in Shiprock, Washburn was speeding home because he wanted to pick up his “common law wife” from her work at the Littlewater Express gas station, Fancher wrote.

Instead, he crashed into a truck pulling out of the gas station, around 10 p.m., he wrote.

Navajo Nation Police Officer Ty Joe arrived at the scene of the crash and found Washburn walking around, his face covered in blood. Washburn was obviously intoxicated and smelled like alcohol. He denied driving and claimed another man, only identified by the first initial “H,” was driving and “took off running after the crash,” Navajo Nation Criminal Investigator Wilson Charley wrote in an investigation report. Multiple witnesses said Washburn was lying, according to court documents.

Joe saw Wadsworth was pinned against the passenger-side door frame and it had to be cut for him to be removed. While Joe was trying to render medical attention to Wadsworth when Washburn walked away and later returned in a black Dodge Avenger and claimed he was injured. Joe told the person driving him to drive him to the Northern Navajo Medical Center, Charley wrote.

The child was flown to the hospital first, followed by Wadsworth, because he had to be extricated. The 2-year-old child suffered a lacerated liver, a collapsed lung, a left arm fracture and a broken left leg, he wrote.

Wadsworth’s right arm was completely broken, as was his left leg. He suffered “massive trauma” to the back of the head, according to a field investigation conducted by the Office of the Medical Investigator.

After being sealed in a body bag on Feb. 16, 2018, his family agreed for him to be an organ donor. The following day, donor services informed the deputy field investigator that the Desert View Funeral Home embalmed him before they could harvest any organs, according tot he field investigation.

Although he was embalmed before an autopsy could happen, the FBI asked for it to still be done, according to the field investigation.

According to the autopsy report, Wadsworth has tears in his right lung, spleen and liver, which would have caused massive internal bleeding resulting in his death.

 

See the extensive case write-up here.

Suspect: Tavis Washburn

Victim: Orlando Wadsworth, 37

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter and assault on a minor resulting in serious bodily injury, pleaded down to involuntary manslaughter and child abuse

Status: Sentenced; Guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter and child abuse

Incident type: Drunk driving crash

Sentence: 6 years (71 months) followed by 3 years supervised release

Sentence range per plea deal: 71 (6 years) to 10 years (120 months)

Date of incident: Feb. 15, 2018

Agency: FBI

Location: Littlewater Express, Highway 491, Littlewater, NM

Magistrate case number: 18-mj-03457

District case number: 19-cr-02072

See the case documents on Google Drive, Document Cloud or locally

The Albuquerque federal criminal courthouse. Ken Lund/Flickr. License CC BY-SA 2.0.