- Suspect: Tavis Washburn
- Victim: Orlando Wadsworth, 37
- Date of incident: Feb. 15, 2018
- 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; binding plea deal
- Incident type: Drunk driving crash
- Sentence: 6 years (71 months) followed by 3 years supervised release
- Sentence range per plea deal: 6 years (71 months) to 10 years (120 months)
- Agency: FBI
- Location: Littlewater Express, Highway 491, Littlewater, NM
- Magistrate case number: 18-mj-03457
- District case number: 19-cr-02072
- Prosecutor: Allison Jaros
- Plea judge (magistrate): Kirtan Khalsa
- Sentencing judge (district): Martha Vazquez
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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