A White Swan woman who caused a wreck that killed two people and badly injured a third told a judge Tuesday she’s never been in trouble before and was terrified of going to prison.
“I’ve never been away from my family before,” Mabel Cultee told the court, adding, “I’m not a bad person. I don’t look for trouble. I’m sorry.”
Yakima County Superior Court Judge Ruth Reukauf nevertheless sentenced Cultee, who had no prior criminal history, to 3½ years in prison for vehicular homicide. The sentence was in the middle of the range, 36 to 48 months, under state guidelines.
“What happened here is a testament to how quickly life can change in just a second,” Reukauf said.
The conviction stemmed from an horrific crash on July 19, 2010, at the intersection of Larue Road and South Oldenway Road outside of Toppenish.
Authorities said Cultee, 52, ran a stop sign at the intersection, broadsiding a pickup and killing Reyes Valdez, 62, and her son, Remigio Valdez, 40. An 11-year-old girl, Julissa Valdez, survived after good Samaritans cut her from the wreckage as flames began to engulf the truck. Remigio Valdez was Julissa Valdez’s uncle and Reyes Valdez was her grandmother.
A Yakima County jury last week convicted Cultee of two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault. The girl made a complete recovery and testified.
Cultee was taken into custody Friday after her conviction. During Tuesday’s sentencing, she got sick and began vomiting, delaying the process momentarily.
At trial it was undisputed that Cultee had a cocktail of unprescribed painkillers in her system — hydrocodone, morphine, methadone and muscle relaxers — at the time of the crash.
However, the jury could not agree on the cause, finding her guilty of the least serious theory of vehicular homicide, known as disregard for the safety of others, rather than the prosecution’s more serious theories of impairment or recklessness.
In addition to the 3½-year sentence, Reukauf placed Cultee on 18 months of probation. A hearing may be scheduled later to resolve a restitution estimate of more than $82,000.
Noting the dispute at trial over the cause of the crash, Reukauf said ultimately there was only one person who really knows what role drugs may have played. “Only you in your heart know,” she told the defendant.
• Chris Bristol can be reached at 509-577-7748 or firstname.lastname@example.org.