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 email@example.com.