A Prineville man was sentenced to 20 years in prison Thursday afternoon for multiple crimes that resulted in the death of two men and injury of three others.
Justin Dewey Bittick, 38, was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Annette C. Hillman during a sentencing hearing at the Crook County Courthouse. According to Crook County District Attorney Wade Whiting, the sentence includes no eligibility for any form of early release from custody in the first 20 years of custody, and a period of 36 months of post-prison supervision.
The sentence was the result of a four-day trial where the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all 14 counts Bittick faced in June 2019.
Whiting recounted that on Oct. 21, 2017, at around 2:20 a.m., the Crook County Sheriff's Office responded to a report of a fatal car crash on Southwest Reservoir Road and Millican Road near the Juniper Acres subdivision. When deputies arrived, the reporting party was on scene attempting to give first aid to the five occupants.
All vehicle occupants were ejected from the car during a multiple rollover crash. An Oregon State Police collision reconstructionist later determined none of the five occupants had been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the wreck.
According to Whiting, deputies located two deceased men later identified as 23-year-old Caleb Williams and 21-year-old Stephan Leader-Bowles, and three surviving occupants. At the scene, the surviving occupants were in critical condition, unable to give statements and were sent by air ambulance to the hospital.
Investigating officers responded to the hospital and waited for the patients to stabilize and give statements about how the crash had occurred. At different dates and locations, two of the surviving passengers regained consciousness and gave similar accounts of how the crash occurred, Whiting stated.
As the five left a local bar, Leader-Bowles agreed to drive Bittick's vehicle because of how intoxicated Bittick appeared. When Leader-Bowles missed the turn to Bittick's house, Bittick demanded he pull over and be allowed to drive the rest of the way.
Both survivors described a situation where they did not want Bittick to drive, but it was his car and they did not believe they could prevent him from doing so.
As Bittick got behind the wheel, all four passengers became extremely fearful for their safety when he stated he was going to drive his vehicle 100 miles per hour and then quickly accelerated. The collision reconstructionist estimated the vehicle was driving at least 58 miles per hour at the time Bittick failed to navigate a turn and left the road. The vehicle swerved and then rolled almost 300 feet before coming to a rest on the hood of the car.
A blood draw from the hospital that was later tested by Oregon State Police forensic scientists determined that Bittick's blood alcohol concentration when admitted to the hospital was .16, which is twice the legal limit of .08 in the State of Oregon. Whiting added that Bittick's urine also tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine.
In reaching their verdict, the jury found Bittick had operated his vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants in a manner that manifested extreme indifference to the value of human life.
He was convicted on two counts of first-degree manslaughter, two counts of third-degree assault, driving under the influence of intoxicants and numerous other misdemeanor charges.
Whiting said that at sentencing, Bittick gave a brief statement expressing regret for drinking that night and apologized to the families of the victims.
"I understand their families have lost the most. This can never be made right," he said. "My remorse, apology and regret will never make up for the pain that has been experienced. I pray that God's mercy and grace will be with us all."
In addition, the families of the victims gave heartfelt and emotional statements at sentencing, describing how deeply they loved and now miss Caleb and Stephan.
"The Crook County District Attorney's Office would like to send our deepest and most sincere condolences to the families of Caleb Williams and Stephan Leader-Bowles. For almost two years, they patiently waited for this case to proceed through the criminal justice system," Whiting stated. "It is our hope the families can now feel some measure of closure from these tragic losses."
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