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031810 i90 fatal crash
Corey Brooks Jay apologizes to the victims’ famlies and friends at his sentencing Wednesday. Jay was found guilty of two counts of negligent homicide for the Oct. 3, 2008, deaths of David Hanson, 55, and Janice Thomas, 56. Photo by BOB ZELLAR/Billings Gazette

BILLINGS - A man convicted of negligent homicide for the deaths of a Missoula couple killed in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 90 was sentenced Wednesday to the Montana State Prison for 20 years.

District Judge Susan Watters imposed the sentence for Corey Brooks Jay at the end of an emotional two-hour hearing that included testimony from the family of his two victims. A woman who said she barely survived the incident by swerving off the highway also spoke at the hearing.

Jay, 27, was convicted at trial in December of two counts of negligent homicide for the Oct. 3, 2008, deaths of David Hanson, 55, and his wife, Janice Thomas, 56. The couple was killed at about 8:20 p.m. when a pickup truck driven by Jay crossed the median near the Zoo Drive exit and struck their car head-on.

The jury rejected the more serious charges of vehicular homicide while under the influence, and the panel also found Jay guilty of two misdemeanor counts of negligent endangerment instead of two counts of felony criminal endangerment. Those charges were based on evidence that two motorists swerved to avoid a collision with the truck driven by Jay before the fatal crash.

Watters sentenced Jay to consecutive terms of 15 years at the state prison, with five years suspended, for the negligent homicide charges. She imposed concurrent terms of one year in jail for the misdemeanor counts.

Watters rejected a recommendation from prosecutors for a more severe sentence of 40 years in prison with five years suspended and a 10-year parole restriction. Deputy County Attorney David Carter made the recommendation after several family members of the victims gave emotional testimony and requested the maximum sentence possible.

Two of Thomas' daughters told the judge they remain devastated by the loss of their mother. A video played at the couple's memorial service was also played during the sentencing hearing, bringing Jay to tears as he watched from the defense table.

Hanson's daughter and brother-in-law gave similar, emotional testimony about their loss.

"What Mr. Jay did was intentional and murder," said Jessica Hanson.

Jay spoke briefly at the hearing, turning to the family members in the courtroom and offering a tearful apology.

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"I wish I could bring them back and give my life," he said.

Deputy Public Defender Matthew Claus asked the judge for a total sentence of 20 years in prison with 10 years suspended. That sentence would be comparable to the sentences imposed in similar cases, Claus said.

The cause of the accident remains unclear, Clause said. Jay admitted to drinking beer before the crash, but a blood test showed his blood-alcohol level was between 0.08 percent and 0.06 percent, at or just below the state legal limit for driving, Claus said.

Reporter Greg Tuttle can be reached at (406) 657-1320 or at gtuttle@billingsgazette.com.

 

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