Thompson Falls School Board member pleads guilty to fatal DUI crash

2013-01-12T06:10:00Z 2014-06-11T12:41:46Z Thompson Falls School Board member pleads guilty to fatal DUI crashBy VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian missoulian.com
January 12, 2013 6:10 am  • 

THOMPSON FALLS – In his initial appearance on four felony charges this week, the vice chairman of the Thompson Falls School Board told District Court Judge C.B. McNeil he drove drunk and caused the deaths of two people in September.

Lance Pavlik pleaded guilty to all four counts and will spend 10 years in the custody of the Montana Department of Corrections if the judge accepts a plea agreement in the case.

Pavlik’s attorney, Lance Jasper of Missoula, said his client “wanted to take accountability, and didn’t want it to drag out. A lot of these situations can drag out for a long time.”

“By taking accountability early, hopefully the victims’ families and the town can heal some,” Jasper said.

Pavlik was accused of being under the influence when his 2009 Toyota Tacoma pickup crossed the centerline on Prospect Creek Road outside Thompson Falls approximately 20 minutes before midnight on Sept. 8 and smashed head-on into another vehicle.

The crash killed 32-year-old Jeremiah Abel Bennett and his 23-year-old fiancée, Christina Rae Jackson.

Bennett’s two children, 4-year-old Mya and 2-year-old Abel, both strapped in car seats in the back of the 1994 Saturn their father was driving, were seriously injured in the crash.

Pavlik was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide while under the influence, and two counts of criminal endangerment. Pavlik, the golf professional at Thompson Falls’ Rivers Bend Golf Course, was accused of having a blood alcohol content of 0.245, or more than three times the legal limit.

Under terms of the plea agreement, Pavlik would be sentenced to 15 years with the Montana Department of Corrections on each of the homicide charges, with 10 years suspended on each.

The sentences would run consecutively, meaning once the prison time on one was served, the second sentence would commence.

Pavlik also would be required to make annual presentations in Sanders County high schools for 10 years on the dangers of drinking and driving once his prison sentences are completed, and to make restitution to Bennett’s and Jackson’s families totaling $7,267.07.

Additionally, he would be sentenced to 10 years on each of the criminal endangerment charges, with all time on those suspended.

***

Sanders County Attorney Bob Zimmerman said Friday he had spoken to Bennett’s and Jackson’s families prior to working out the plea agreement with Pavlik and Jasper, but declined to characterize their feelings about it.

“I would leave that to them,” Zimmerman said.

A listing located for a Colorado number for Bennett’s parents was no longer in service. Sherrie Jackson, Christina’s mother, did not return a phone message Friday afternoon and contact information for Christina’s father, Howard, could not be located.

Pavlik faced a maximum of 30 years in prison and/or a fine of $50,000 on each of the vehicular homicide felonies. The criminal endangerment felonies carry maximum sentences of 10 years and/or $50,000 fines.

McNeil, who is not bound by the plea agreement, ordered a pre-sentence investigation and set sentencing for March 12.

The judge also asked Zimmerman if Pavlik had any prior convictions. The county attorney said Pavlik had been convicted of driving under the influence in Gallatin County in February 2011.

McNeil gave Pavlik the option of reporting to the Sanders County jail twice a day to have his blood alcohol level tested, or wearing a secure continuous remote alcohol monitoring device, or SCRAM bracelet, while awaiting his sentencing. Pavlik chose the SCRAM bracelet.

Pavlik was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Thompson Falls School Board in September 2005, and was first elected to the seat in May 2006.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(17) Comments

  1. OhMyGosh
    Report Abuse
    OhMyGosh - January 15, 2013 11:51 am

    I can tell you that the families are not ok with this slap on the wrist. They are devastated by this injustice to the families. He was already caught once before, not to mention all he times he did it without being caught. This is a disaster. I am so sorry to the families, you deserve better from our justice system

  2. dave ajou
    Report Abuse
    dave ajou - January 14, 2013 9:13 am

    You mean the driver who was reported as driving aggressively, while texting ? Try negligent vehicular homicide rather than an "accident". An accident is when you forget to plug the parking meter, not when somebody dies because of reckless disregard. You're a troll, and a sick one at that, so go get your juvenile jollies somewhere else.

  3. the 1 u luv2hate
    Report Abuse
    the 1 u luv2hate - January 13, 2013 1:40 pm
    What about the 21 year old girl from Plains who perished on Evaro hill? What can we stigmatize in that wreck? Putting a man in jail longer then 90 days for an accident means there is something wrong with this society
  4. UMstudent77
    Report Abuse
    UMstudent77 - January 13, 2013 10:59 am
    7K in restitution? What is that? A slap on the wrist. What is 7K going to do for these 2 children that lost both parents due to this mans negligence? At the very least he should be responsible for child support and full College tuition at ANY institution they choose if they do so. Despicable. No wonder the nations laughs at the fact that in Montana you have to beg to be held responsible for DUI. 7,8,9,10,11, times DUI until a sentence is handed down!
  5. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - January 13, 2013 9:30 am
    What "mass hysteria"? This guy killed two innocent people through his negligence, but obviously that doesn't bother you.
  6. mischief
    Report Abuse
    mischief - January 13, 2013 12:12 am
    My thoughts go out to the family members of the two victims, but they should be thankful that the driver took responsibility by pleading guilty and taking his punishment like a man. If only Brian Holm the murderer of my good friends son, Brian Beaver, would man up and start his sentence. But Beavers family is still waiting for justice because the jerk who drove drunk and killed him is too chicken s##t to man up. The S.O.B, ran away to Minnesota after being found guilty. It's been two years and the big baby still hasn't faced justice. At least the family of the victims don't have to put up with this BS.
  7. the 1 u luv2hate
    Report Abuse
    the 1 u luv2hate - January 13, 2013 12:07 am
    How many of you drove while under the influence of anything or too tired? It does not have anything to do with a lenient court system, it has everything to do with mass hysteria
  8. lndmrhrrs
    Report Abuse
    lndmrhrrs - January 12, 2013 8:04 pm
    Sensational headline? Our school board members are to set policy and procedures to insure lifelong learning for all students in a safe environment. I do not look at it as an anti-education statement at all. They are the members of our community that parents/grandparents intrust their children to. I could care less if he is a gold course manager or not, that does not directly affect the safety of my children. We teach our children it is wrong to drink and drive but it is ok to be an "up standing" citizen in the community, golf course manager and school board member to not only drive drunk but take the lives of two innocent people. What is sad, NO ONE will know what kind of "up standing" citizens those two young people that were KILLED would have turned out to be.
  9. lvin
    Report Abuse
    lvin - January 12, 2013 3:36 pm
    Well, working for a private company is alot different than holding a seat on a school board, you are put there by the public to represent our children and parents and to help make the best decisions for the taxpayers and schools.Under these circumstances with Mr. Pavlik. or anyone else who has been convicted of criminal offenses.. should be removed, or remove himself from the board. The Superintendent should of done this immediately.....
  10. Penny
    Report Abuse
    Penny - January 12, 2013 3:11 pm
    "how did a drunk get on the school board?"
    Fill in the blank "How did the drunk get to be a (judge, senator,doctor, lawyer, butcher, baker ,candlestick maker.........) No matter who or what place in life, shouldn't be drinking and driving.
  11. lvin
    Report Abuse
    lvin - January 12, 2013 11:53 am
    I would hope the parents of the victims would expect more out of our justice system for the lives of their loved ones than this sentence!
  12. lvin
    Report Abuse
    lvin - January 12, 2013 11:47 am
    What I wonder even more than how he got on the school board is WHY he is STILL on the school board??? Will they have him skype from prison when he is in there? and who would think you could kill two people, injure two children, lie about drinking at the time, and still be able to keep your license?
  13. WeeWidget
    Report Abuse
    WeeWidget - January 12, 2013 10:58 am
    This very unfortunate event affected many lives in Sanders County. Personally I appreciate that Mr. Pavlik chose to plead guilty rather than put the taxpayers through an expensive, lengthy, and emotionally draining trial. The loss of that couple is horrendous, and I believe the whole county is reeling from the incredible sadness of the event. However, on another note, I believe the somewhat sensational headline that identifies Mr. Pavlik as a school board member is not necessary. Yes, he is a school board member, but he is also a golf course manager. Why highlight the school as a main focus of the article? That is really only a part of his persona. It makes for an anti-education statement.
  14. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - January 12, 2013 8:27 am
    Something is wrong with that county. How did a drunk get on the School Board? How did the Clerk of the Court get charged with multiple felonies for pilfering money from the Court? How did the Senior Centers, with all those Board of Directors handling tax money to operate them, allow gambling there without getting a license to do so? Why is this County always in the news for drunkeness, for illegal gambling, for theft by elected officials?
  15. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - January 12, 2013 6:59 am
    Given Montana's extremely lenient criminal justice system, he could be released after serving as little as 25% of the sentence - which is only 2-1/2 years. Not bad for killing two innocent people.
  16. RPT
    Report Abuse
    RPT - January 12, 2013 6:37 am
    Yep your right.. And he may be out in less then three years.
    This is Montana where the punishment NEVER fits the crime
    when it comes to drinking and driving..
  17. frazzle
    Report Abuse
    frazzle - January 12, 2013 3:53 am
    all that death and destruction and all he gets is ten years,something is wrong with this picture.
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