Tavor Tom pleads to 2nd-degree murder for killing of aunt

Tavor Tom pleaded guilty to second-degree murder
• He faces a maximum sentence of life for killing his aunt
Federal sentencing guidelines put his sentence at 16 to 20 years

See the case write-up or read previous stories on the case

SHIPROCK, N.M. —  Tavor Tom could receive a sentence of up to life in a federal prison after he pleaded guilty, Nov. 24, 2020, to second-degree murder for stabbing his aunt to death in 2019.

Tom, 19, of Shiprock, pleaded guilty in front of federal Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa during a virtual hearing that lasted just over 30 minutes. Khalsa deferred final acceptance of the plea deal until sentencing by a district court judge, who has not been assigned yet.

Shiprock. Photo by Joseph Novak/Flickr

Tom will remain in jail pending his sentencing hearing.

A federal grand jury indicted him on July 9, 2019, on a charge of second-degree murder. He stabbed his aunt to death on July 1, 2019.

According to the plea deal proffered by federal prosecutor Joseph Spindle, there is no agreement as to the sentence.

Prosecutors will agree that Tom accepted responsibility for his conduct and grant that, under the sentencing guidelines, he is entitled to a reduction of two levels from the base offense. Spindle and Tom’s defense attorney, James Loonam, can argue whatever they want when it comes to the sentence.

In the plea agreement, Tom wrote that he stabbed his aunt repeatedly with a knife, “intentionally and without justification.”

When interrogated by FBI agents, he said he stabbed her repeatedly and slit her throat, according to court documents.

A records request for the autopsy report is pending with the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Sentencing guidelines

Second-degree murder carries a base offense level, per the federal sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder, is 38. The plea deal provides Tom with a two-level reduction for pleading guilty, putting the base level at 36.

According to the federal sentencing table, with little or no criminal history, that puts Tom’s proposed sentence, sans any increases or decreases, at 16 to 20 years. At a base offense level of 38, the level without the consideration of his guilty plea, the range increases to 20 to 24 years.

Based on a search of federal and state court records, Tom does not appear to have any prior state or federal arrests. His tribal criminal records are unknown.

His final sentence will be up to the sentencing judge. No sentencing date has been set.

Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43.
Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43.

The crime

At 10 a.m., July 2, 2019, the victim was found dead in her house by her father. Sometime during that same morning, Tavor Tom was found in the victim’s Jeep Cherokee, after he crashed into a fence in front of a church in Nenahnezad. Navajo Nation police officers found a bloody knife in the car, FBI Agent Cary Cahoon wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

During an interrogation, Tom told FBI agents he killed his maternal aunt with a folding knife he took from his father’s vehicle. He intended to go to her house to steal her car so he could drive it to Farmington to steal Mucinex. After he stole it from the store, he drove on the back roads toward Shiprock and he crashed the vehicle into the fence. He was found in it the next morning, Cahoon wrote.

For more details on the crash, see the case write-up.

Continue reading “Tavor Tom pleads to 2nd-degree murder for killing of aunt”

Plea set for Tavor Tom in aunt’s stabbing death in Shiprock

• A change of plea hearing is set for Tavor Tom on Nov. 24, 2020
• A grand jury indicted Tom on a charge of second-degree murder for allegedly killing his aunt
• Tom told FBI agents he stabbed her seven to eight times and slit her throat

See the case write-up or read previous stories on the case

SHIPROCK, N.M. —  The Shiprock man who told police he stabbed his aunt and stole her car, before crashing it into a fence on his way to Farmington in 2019, is set for a change of plea hearing on Nov. 24, 2020.

Shiprock in the snow. Photo by Larry Lamsa/Flickr. CC-BY

According to a hearing notice, Tavor Tom, 19, is set for a change of plea hearing at 10 a.m. in front of Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa. The hearing is to be held virtually, via Zoom.

A federal grand jury indicted him on July 9, 2019, on a charge of second-degree murder and his case has been continued at least four times. A jury trial in front of District Judge William Johnson had been set for Jan. 4. 2021.

Tom has been in custody since he was arrested on July 2, 2019. The prosecutor in the case appears to be Joseph Spindle with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

At 10 a.m., July 2, 2019, the victim was found dead in her house by her father. Sometime during that same morning, Tavor Tom was found in the victim’s Jeep Cherokee, after he crashed into a fence in front of a church in Nenahnezad. Navajo Nation police officers found a bloody knife in the car, FBI Agent Cary Cahoon wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

During an interrogation, Tom told FBI agents he killed his maternal aunt with a folding knife he took from his father’s vehicle. He intended to go to her house to steal her car so he could drive it to Farmington to steal Mucinex. After he stole it from the store, he drove on the back roads toward Shiprock and he crashed the vehicle into a fence at a church in Nenahnezad. He was found in it the next morning, Cahoon wrote.

For more details on the crash, see the case write-up.

Continue reading “Plea set for Tavor Tom in aunt’s stabbing death in Shiprock”

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 binding plea deal mandated 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.

Washburn previously pleaded guilty in front of Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa on July 12, 2019, who deferred final acceptance of the plea until sentencing in front of Vazquez, during a 27-minute hearing, according to minutes from the plea hearing.

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 binding plea deal, or why she accepted the binding plea deal.

Continue reading “Judge gives Sanostee man minimum sentence for brother’s death in DWI crash”

Navajo Nation man, 19, arrested for allegedly stabbing his aunt to death in Shiprock

See the full case write-up here

SHIPROCK, N.M. — Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigations charged a Shiprock man with murder for allegedly stabbing his aunt to death at her home on July 1, 2019.

Tavor Tom, 19, was charged with an open count of murder, according to a criminal complaint and affidavit filed on July 3 in federal District Court. He was later indicted on a charge of second-degree murder on July 9, 2019.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

The woman, described by interviewed witnesses as Tom’s maternal aunt but unnamed in court documents (but identified by her year of birth, 1974), was found dead in her home at 10 a.m. the following day, July 2, 2019, by her father. Sometime during that same morning, Tom was found in the victim’s Jeep Cherokee, after he allegedly crashed into a fence in front of a church in Nenahnezad. Navajo Nation police officers found a bloody knife in the car, FBI agent Cary Cahoon wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

FBI agent Kalon Fancher interviewed Tom and advised him he did not have to speak with him, but Cahoon did not write if Fancher told Tom his Miranda rights.

According to Fancher’s interview with Tom, the latter allegedly admitted to killing the victim with a folding knife he took from his father’s vehicle with the intention of going to the victim’s house to steal her car so he could drive it to Farmington to steal Mucinex, Cahoon wrote.

Continue reading “Navajo Nation man, 19, arrested for allegedly stabbing his aunt to death in Shiprock”

Tavor Tom: Unidentified woman (aunt) — 7-1-2019

 

Summary

Tavor Tom, a member of the Navajo nation, allegedly went on July 1, 2019 to his maternal aunt’s house and stabbed her repeatedly, killing her, stole her car, then crashed it into a fence, according to his alleged confession.

He was allegedly trying to get to Farmington because he wanted to steal the over-the-counter drug Mucinex, generically known as guaifenesin.

A federal grand jury indicted him eight days later on July 9, 2019, on a charge of second-degree murder. His case is pending.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

At 10 a.m., July 2, 2019, the victim was found dead in her house by her father. Sometime during that same morning, Tavor Tom, of Shiprock, was found in the victim’s Jeep Cherokee, after he crashed into a fence in front of a church in Nenahnezad. Navajo Nation police officers found a bloody knife in the car, FBI agent Cary Cahoon wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

FBI agent Kalon Fancher interviewed Tom and advised him he did not have to speak with him, but Cahoon did not write if Fancher told Tom his Miranda rights.

According to Fancher’s interview with Tom, the latter allegedly admitted to killing the victim with a folding knife he took from his father’s vehicle with the intention of going to the victim’s house to steal her car so he could drive it to Farmington to steal Mucinex, Cahoon wrote.

Tom allegedly said he went to the victim’s trailer, “slit her throat and then stabbed her seven (7) or (8) times with the knife he took from his father’s vehicle, and then stole her vehicle,” Cahoon wrote.

Tom allegedly said he drove to the Wal-Mart in Farmington, stole Mucinex from the store around 7 p.m. and drove on the back roads toward Shiprock, Cahoon wrote.

He then crashed the vehicle into a fence at a church in Nenahnezad, rendering the vehicle undriveable. He was found in the vehicle the next morning.

Crashed car

Navajo Nation firefighter Derrick Woody told Cahoon that he responded to Tom’s car crash and that Tom allegedly tried to overdose on Mucinex. The drug, as well as vomit, were found in the vehicle.

Navajo Nation Sgt. Francis Yazzie told Cahoon that he also responded to the crash and he found a folding knife with blood on it on the passenger-side floorboard.

Family interviews

The victim’s father, only identified by the initials R. C., found the victim, unnamed in federal court documents, when he went to check on her at the behest of her adult children, who could not reach her on the phone.

“After R.C. discovered Victim and realized she was deceased, he called 911,” Cahoon wrote.

Cahoon was called by Navajo Nation detective Jerrick Curley that there had been a killing in Shiprock, in the exterior boundaries of the reservation.

Curley told Cahoon that he found the woman lying on her bedroom floor with multiple cuts and blood around her. He also told Cahoon that the woman’s nephew, Tom, had been in a car crash near Nenahnezad. The car he crashed allegedly belonged to the alleged victim and inside the vehicle police found a knife with blood on it.

The victim’s father, Tom’s grandfather, told Cahoon that Tom had come to his house, next door to the victim’s, at 6 p.m., July 1, 2019, to use his computer, and then left.

Tom’s mother, who was the victim’s sister and is only identified by the initials “M.T.,” told Cahoon that Tom lived with her at her house in Shiprock, which was in “close proximity” to the victim’s house, a single-wide trailer. Tom got around on a red ATV, parked next to R.C.’s house.

“M.T. received a text message from TOM the previous night (07/01/2019) and indicated he was with his friends,” Cahoon wrote. “M.T. went to visit Victim at her residence the previous evening (07/01/2019), at approximately 6:30 p.m., when M.T. arrived and saw that Victim’s vehicle was gone, she assumed Victim left in her vehicle to go somewhere.”

She said her son had been addicted to Mucinex for several years and uses it to get high.

“TOM also had been suicidal in the past and has become more violent recently,” he wrote.

M.T. alleged her son often takes her car without permission and drives it to stores where he can steal Mucinex. She also acknowledged that Tom was found in the victim’s vehicle.

“M.T. believed TOM was the one who killed Victim,” Cahoon wrote. “R.C. and M.T. both advised that Tom often went by and visited Victim at her house and that they got along with one another.”

The crime scene

In the afternoon of July 2, 2019, officers searched the interior and exterior of the victim’s trailer, although Cahoon did not write whom he obtained consent from, since the victim was dead.

During the search, officers found the key to Tom’s red ATV on a couch in the living room. A cell phone was found on a different couch in the living room and there were drops of blood in the kitchen, laundry room and bedroom.

“Additionally, the medicine cabinet door was open in the kitchen and it appeared that someone had rummaged through the prescriptions and over-the-counter medications,” Cahoon wrote.

The field investigator with the Office of the Medical Investigator found the victim had “trauma” and cuts to her neck, back and chest.

 

gov.uscourts.nmd.424819.1.0

 

Held without bail

According to the court docket, Tom initially appeared July 3, 2019 and on July 10 in Albuquerque federal court, and he was ordered held indefinitely after his attorney waived a detention hearing.

On July 10, his attorney filed a waiver of a preliminary hearing. However, a federal grand jury had already indicted him on July 9, 2019, on a charge of second-degree murder.

Plea to second-degree murder

Tom pleaded guilty, Nov. 24, 2020, to second-degree murder in front of federal Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa during a virtual hearing that lasted just over 30 minutes. Khalsa deferred final acceptance of the plea deal until sentencing by a district court judge.

According to the plea deal proffered by federal prosecutor Joseph Spindle, there is no agreement as to the sentence.

Prosecutors will agree that Tom accepted responsibility for his conduct and grant that, under the sentencing guidelines, he is entitled to a reduction of two levels from the base offense. Spindle and Tom’s defense attorney, James Loonam, can argue whatever they want when it comes to the sentence.

In the plea agreement, Tom wrote that he stabbed his aunt repeatedly with a knife, “intentionally and without justification.”

When interrogated by FBI agents, he said he stabbed her repeatedly and slit her throat, according to court documents.

A records request for the autopsy report is pending with the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Sentencing guidelines

Second-degree murder carries a base offense level, per the federal sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder, is 38. The plea deal provides Tom with a two-level reduction for pleading guilty, putting the base level at 36.

According to the federal sentencing table, with little or no criminal history, that puts Tom’s proposed sentence, sans any increases or decreases, at 16 to 20 years. At a base offense level of 38, the level without the consideration of his guilty plea, the range increases to 20 to 24 years.

Based on a search of federal and state court records, Tom does not appear to have any prior state or federal arrests. His tribal criminal records are unknown.

His final sentence will be up to the sentencing judge. No sentencing date has been set.

See the case on CourtListener.com or read the documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Jerome Dayzie: Marvin Johnson — 12-9-2017

 

Summary

On Dec. 9, 2017, Jerome Dayzie was driving back from Colorado to his home in Round Rock, Ariz, with his wife, identified as Terra Dayzie, and a friend, Marvin Johnson, 37. Jerome Dayzie, who had a blood-alcohol content of 0.196, crashed into the back of a parked trailer on the side of the road. Johnson was ejected and died at the scene, according to court records.

Jerome Dayzie was initially arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, according to court records.

On April 16, 2018, he pleaded guilty to the same charge and on Feb. 26, 2019, District Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced him to the minimum under the sentencing guidelines, just over three years, despite four previous convictions for DUI, according to court records.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

On Dec. 9, 2017, Jerome Dayzie was driving on BIA/Indian Services/Navajo Route 13, toward his home in Round Rock, Ariz, with his wife and the victim, Marvin Johnson, 37, FBI Agent Kalon Fancher wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Butte off of U.S. Highway 191 near Roundrock, Ariz. Photo by Seth Graham/Flickr. CC-BY-NC-ND
Butte off of U.S. Highway 191 near Roundrock, Ariz. Photo by Seth Graham/Flickr. CC-BY-NC-ND

They had driven to Cortez, Colo., to buy beer at the G-Whil liquor store. There, they bought three cases of St. Ides malt liquor, all in 40-ounce bottles. St. Ides has an ABV, or alcohol by volume, of 8.2 percent. They were sharing the liquor as they drove back to Arizona and Jerome Dayzie estimated he drank a whole bottle by himself, he told Fancher in an interrogation, according to Fancher’s affidavit.

Jerome Dayzie said Johnson was the one who wanted to go, Fancher wrote.

After he turned off Highway 491 and onto BIA/Indian Services/Navajo Route 13, the sun was in his face and a car was heading toward him. A trailer was parked “half on the road,” Fancher wrote, summarizing his interview with Jerome Dayzie.

“He stated ‘it’s either I hit the other vehicle or I hit the trailer,'” Fancher wrote. “He stated he hit the end of the trailer and flipped right over.”

According to a sentencing memorandum, his blood-alcohol content was 0.196.

Johnson was in the back seat of Jerome Dayzie’s Ford Explorer when he was ejected from the vehicle.

Jerome Dayzie’s wife, Terra Dayzie (identified as T.D. or Jane Doe-1 in some court records), said Jerome Dayzie drank about half of a 40-ounce bottle, Fancher wrote.

Fancher wrote:

“JANE DOE-1 stated she fell asleep and woke up when DAYZIE hit the back of a trailer parked along the side of the road. JANE DOE-1 stated (V-1) flipped over. She stated JOHN DOE-1 was thrown out of (V-1) and she tried to wake him up but he was not responding.”

When law enforcement arrived, they declared him dead at the scene, he wrote.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez wrote that the flatbed trailer Jerome Dayzie hit was loaded with furniture.

After crashing into the rear, Jerome Dayzie’s Ford Explorer flipped. Johnson was ejected and pinned under the driver’s side, Ruiz-Velez wrote.

One witness, behind Jerome Dayzie, said his car had been swerving from side to side before it hit the trailer, rolled, and landed on the driver’s side, she wrote.

The owner of the trailer said he and his son were driving to Arizona when they noticed the straps holding the furniture down seemed to be loose. They pulled to the side of the road to check the straps before Jerome Dayzie crashed into the back of the trailer, Ruiz-Velez wrote.

In an amended sentencing memorandum, Jerome Dayzie’s attorney, federal public defender John Butcher, wrote that the trio were “bootlegging” alcohol to the reservation.

According to a deputy field investigation by Tiffany Keaton, with the Office of the Medical Investigator, witnesses told law enforcement that the Explorer “clipped” the left corner of the trailer, causing the trailer to “fork” to the left. The explorer then flipped one and a half times. Johnson was ejected out the passenger-side window before it landed on him. He was not wearing a seat belt.

“Witnesses, were able to pull the vehicle off of Marvin Johnson,” Keaton wrote.

According to the autopsy report, Johnson died from blunt chest trauma.

Fancher filed the for the arrest warrant two days after the crash, on Dec. 11., 2017.

Court proceedings

Pre-trial release

Jerome Dayzie pleaded not guilty, waived a preliminary hearing and a grand jury presentment on Dec. 15, 2017, and federal Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough released him to the La Pasada Halfway House in Albuquerque, according to the docket and a response by Ruiz-Velez to a motion to allow Jerome Dayzie to speak to his wife, Terra Dayzie.

Among the conditions of release, Jerome Dayzie was prohibited from speaking to any of the witnesses, his wife included.

Ruiz-Velez wrote that she opposed letting Jerome Dayzie talk to his wife “to assure the integrity of the judicial proceedings against the Defendant.”

In a reply to Ruiz-Velez’s response, Butcher wrote his client had a legitimate need to talk to his wife.

“As mentioned in his Motion, they have four children and a home together,” Butcher wrote. “Thus, there is a need to coordinate the care of the children as well as the household finances.”

According to Fancher’s affidavit, Terra Dayzie told investigators that she fell asleep during the drive and only woke up as the crash was happening.

Yarbrough granted the motion over Ruiz-Velez’s objections.

Plea

On April 16, 2018, after repeatedly waiving his right to a grand jury presentment, Jerome Dayzie pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with involuntary manslaughter in front of Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, who accepted the plea.

According to the plea deal, Jerome Dayzie admitted to killing Johnson while driving drunk.

The plea agreement contained agreement as to the sentence, other than that he was entitled to a reduction of two levels in the federal sentencing guidelines because he pleaded guilty.

Sentencing arguments

Ruiz-Velez wrote in a sentencing memorandum, dated Feb. 7, 2019, that Jerome Dayzie should be sentenced to the high end of the guidelines for his crime, 46 months, or just under four years.

She wrote that he had an offense level of 19 and a criminal history category of III, resulting in a guideline sentence range of 37 months (just over 3 years) to 46 months.

Shiprock. Photo by Bowie Snodgrass/Flickr

She wrote that his blood-alcohol content was extremely high, at 0.196, over double the legal per se limit of 0.08.

His criminal history included five prior arrests for DUI, four of which resulted in convictions, although only two of those were considered to calculate his criminal history category.

“It is troubling that Defendant was sentenced for these two convictions on June 21, 2016 and January 12, 2017, less than two years before the instant offense,” Ruiz-Velez wrote. “Defendant’s convictions show that he was aware of the illegality of his conduct when he decided to drive his vehicle while under the influence of alcohol on December 9, 2017.”

His “past conduct” endangered the lives of others, including his 15-year-old son, she wrote.

Butcher wrote in his own initial sentencing memorandum that Johnson was not a stranger to his killer.

“He was a friend and family member,” Butcher wrote. “The three were drinking together. The alcohol found at the accident was due to the fact that the group was bootlegging alcohol back to the reservation.”

Butcher then wrote that they, as friends, went out drinking together.

“Unfortunately, they decided to drive home while intoxicated,” Butcher wrote. “Mr. Dayzie recognizes the loss caused by John Doe’s death.”

Jerome Dayzie is an electrician and is trying to get the licenses needed to “improve his employment,” although he is currently employed as such.

Butcher wrote:

“More importantly, Mr. Dayzie has taken his drug and alcohol treatment extremely serious. As the Court is aware, Mr. Dayzie has a long history of substance abuse. The defendant has remained totally sober while on Pretrial Conditions of Release. He understands now that when he drinks alcohol, ‘bad things tends to happen.'”

Butcher initially asked for a sentence of two years, which he called a mistake. In an amended sentencing memorandum, Butcher asked for a sentence of 37 months (just over 3 years).

Sentencing

According to the docket and a sentencing minutes sheet, on Feb. 26, 2019, federal District Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Jerome Dayzie to 37 months, the minimum sentence under the guidelines and the amount requested by his defense attorney.

The minutes do not contain any information about the reasoning behind the judge’s decision.

According to the minutes, Vazquez addressed Jerome Dayzie and then Johnson’s family members addressed Vazquez.

Although Ruiz-Velez was the prosecutor on the case, according to the sentencing minutes, she did not attend or argue for the sentence she requested at his sentencing hearing. Instead, prosecutor Novaline Wilson attended the hearing. Court documents do not state why she was missing.

Jerome Dayzie then spoke to the judge, and then the judge spoke to him again and imposed the sentence, according to the minutes.

She also ordered he pay $1,592.97 to the New Mexico Crime Victim Reparation Commission and $2,448.72 to Johnson’s sister.

In March 2020, Vazquez sentenced another man, Tavis Washburn, to the minimum sentence in different drunk driving case that killed someone. She sentenced Washburn to the minimum allowed under his plea, just under six years, for a crash that killed his brother and severely injured his 2-year-old son. She was not allowed to sentence him to less under his plea.

Tavis Washburn: Orlando Wadsworth — 2-15-2018

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

Summary

On Feb. 15, 2018, Tavis Washburn, 27, crashed into a truck pulling out of the Littlewater Express on Highway 491 near Littlewater, while speeding. The crash killed his brother, Orlando Wadsworth, and severely injured his 2-year-old son. Eight months later, Federal Bureau of Investigations agents charged him with involuntary manslaughter and assault on a minor resulting in serious bodily injury. When his blood was tested at the hospital, he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.285, over three times the legal limit.

On July 12, 2019, Washburn pleaded guilty to a criminal information, filed the same day, charging him with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse. According to his plea deal, his sentence would range from just under 6 years (71 months) and 10 years, the minimum mandatory sentence if he had been convicted of assault on a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

On Feb. 13, 2020, federal District Court Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Washburn to the minimum under the plea, just under six years, followed by supervised release for three years.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

On Feb. 15, 2018, Tavis Washburn went to see his brother, Orlando Wadsworth, at his house in Sanostee to “have some drinks,” he told investigators, according to an affidavit for a criminal complaint written by FBI Agent Kalon Fancher.

Wadsworth wanted to go to Shiprock to pick up his EBT card, or benefits debit card, so Washburn buckled his 2-year-old child into a child seat in the back of a red Kia and drove to Shiprock. When they finished, Washburn wanted to pick up his “common law wife” from her work at the Littlewater Express gas station, so he sped, an estimated 75 yo 85 mph in a 45-mph zone, Fancher wrote.

One woman, only identified by the initials L.B., told Navajo Nation Criminal Investigator Wilson Charley that she was going about 65 mph when a red Kia passed her, then hit the raised center concrete median, causing sparks to come from the tire, around 10 p.m., Charley wrote in an investigation report.

The red car crested a little hill, then five seconds later, she came on the crash scene. A black truck “was being thrown across the northbound lane and it landed on the east side of the roadway,” Charley wrote.

L.B. stopped and ran to the red car and found two men in the front seats and a baby in the back. Washburn, whom she identified as a man with long hair, was trying to get out of the driver’s side window. The 2-year-old, Washburn’s child, was crying, while Washburn kept yelling he was OK, then started yelling for his brother after he got out, Charley wrote.

According to L.B.’s account, a woman, later identified as K.C., came up and started yelling that it was car her, her husband and her baby involved in the crash, then removed the baby from the car seat while Washburn argued with her, Charley 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,” Charley wrote.

The rest of the man’s name is redacted.

Joe saw Wadsworth was pinned against the passenger-side door frame and it had to be cut for him to be removed and the 2-year-old had been removed from his car seat prior to police or medics arriving, Charley wrote.

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.

According to a sentencing memorandum, K.C. told prosecutors that their son’s left leg bones “have 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.

Washburn’s blood-alcohol content, after the crash, was 0.285, over three times the legal limit, according to the memo.

Washburn was charged on Oct. 24, 2018, eight months following the crash. On Nov. 18, 2018, federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter ordered Washburn be released into the custody of a halfway house.

The other driver

The person in the black truck, a GMC Sierra, that Washburn hit, identified in court documents by the initials A.J., told Charley and Fancher that the night of the crash, he got off work at 3 p.m. He ran a few errands in Farmington before driving back to the Navajo reservation and stopped for gas in Shiprock before driving south to Sanostee, around 9 p.m., Charley wrote.

A.J. told investigators he remembered driving past the weigh station, 2-3 miles north of the Littlewater Express Store, and nothing after that, other than being woken up and his mother taking him to the hospital in Shiprock, he wrote.

However, he admitted to drinking three 12-ounce cans of Bud Light before he was crashed into, Charley wrote.

According to an crash reconstruction report, requested by Fancher and done by Officer Stanley Lundy, AJ was driving at 31 mph at the time of impact while Washburn was driving at 85 mph.

According to a sentencing memorandum, Lundy and another accident reconstructionist, disagreed “at the relative fault” of AJ in the crash, although Lundy’s report makes no overt judgement to fault.

Two more witnesses

Two people, S.B. and K.C., the mother of the 2-year-old/Washburn’s girlfriend (also referred to as his common-law wife and as his wife in court documents)t, were working at the Littlewater Express Store the night of the crash, Charley wrote.

S.B. told Charley that around 9:30 p.m., K.C. was on the phone with her boyfriend, Washburn, and worried he was drinking with their son. Around 10 p.m., the last customer left. It was A.J., who got into his black truck. Her boss called and asked about him and she said he was just leaving the store, he wrote.

“(S.B.) said she was looking out the store window when she noticed a car traveling southbound at a very high rate of speed,” Charley wrote. “(S.B.) said it was almost instantly when the car hit the black truck as it was pulling out of the store’s parking lot.”

Still on the phone with her boss, she screamed it was AJ who was involved in the crash. K.C. ran out of the store, asked S.B. where the crash was, then ran to the crash site. S.B. would see and hear a woman at the site of the crash, yelling for help, Charley wrote.

“(S.B.) said she went back into the store to get her phone and when she came back out (K.C.) was running back to the store yelling she couldn’t make it over the fence,” Charley wrote. “(K.C.) was yelling that it was her car and her baby.”

S.B. saw K.C. run to the crash scene. She then started banging on the car and cussing at someone before opening the door and slapping her boyfriend. She brought the baby back into the store after being driven by someone with the initials S.P., (who name is otherwise redacted in the documents,) Charley wrote.

S.B. went to the crash scene with her boss and saw K.C. in someone’s car with her baby. S.B. called for medics and told them the baby needed medical attention. Washburn followed K.C. around at the crash scene, and K.C. yelled at him, saying he was the cause of “all this,” Charley wrote.

When the medics did find the boy, he was flown to the hospital with severe injuries.

S.B. took K.C. to the San Juan Regional Medical Center and, during the drive, she asked K.C. about the other two adults in the car, he wrote.

“(S.B.) said (K.C.)’s boyfriend was the driver because no one ran from the scene as she witnessed the crash in front of her,” Charley wrote.

Charley’s interview with K.C. makes no mention of her pulling her baby out of the car or not bringing him to medics.

Fatal injuries

Orlando Jerry Wadsworth, of Sanostee, 37 when he died, was born on Oct. 6, 1980 in Shiprock and he died on Feb. 15, 2018, according to his obituary. No more biographical information was listed.

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.

The plea

According to court records, prosecutors filed a criminal information charging Washburn with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse on July 12, 2019, the same day as his plea hearing. The latter charge was a downgrade from assault on a minor resulting in serious bodily injury charge initially levied by Fancher.

Washburn pleaded guilty to the two charges, involuntary manslaughter and child abuse, although Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa deferred final acceptance of the plea until sentencing in front of a District Court judge during a 27-minute hearing, according to minutes from the plea hearing.

According to the plea agreement, Washburn’s sentence would be between just under six years (71 months) and 10 years, an agreement between the prosecution and defense that is binding on a judge who accepts it. Prosecutor Allison Jaros signed the plea.

History of drunk driving

According to Jaros’ sentencing memo, Washburn had previously been arrested for drunk driving in June 2017, while his wife and their child were with him. A breath test for his blood-alcohol level found it to be between 0.15 and 0.17.

“Defendant’s wife told police that she advised Defendant not to drive, but did not want to argue with him,” Jaros wrote.

San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies charged him with child abuse, aggravated DWI, driving on a suspended license and open container of alcohol in a vehicle, according to an Aztec Magistrate Court docket.

His 2017 drunk driving case was initially referred to pre-prosecution diversion, on June 29, 2017, but by Nov. 2, 2017, it was terminated and he waived his right to a preliminary hearing. The case was then bound over to District Court, according to the docket.

According to the Farmington/Aztec District Court docket, he pleaded guilty to drunk driving and child abuse, but the latter charge was subject to a conditional discharge.

 

Sentencing arguments

Federal prosecutor Allison Jaros did not request a specific sentence, other than federal District Court Judge Martha Vazquez accept the plea agreement, with the range of 6-10 years imprisonment.

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.

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

He was not charged for injuries to A.J., in the vehicle he hit, according to court documents.

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 A.J.’s role in the crash and he was never charged because of that disagreement, she wrote.

Jaros wrote that the 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.

Washburn’s attorney, Alejandro 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, that the boy’s left leg bones “have not grown at the same rate as the right leg bones, resulting in his hips being uneven.”

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.”

Revocation for drinking

On Dec. 2, 2019, pretrial services asked for the judge to have Washburn arrested after twice tested positive for alcohol.

On Dec. 1, he blew a 0.148 followed by a 0.168 and the following day, he blew a 0.297, according to a petition for action on the conditions of his pretrial release.

The halfway house Washburn had been staying at was no longer willing to serve as his third-party custodian. On Dec. 4, he was remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and he waived his right to a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing.

Sentenced

On Feb. 13, 2020, two months after Washburn was arrested for violating the conditions of his release by drinking heavily, federal District Court Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced him to the minimum allowed under the plea deal, just under six years (71 months), followed by supervised release for three years.

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.

 

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