Fast pleads guilty, sentenced to 40 months
By Jamie Henneman/The Independent Staff
As one of his final acts as Stevens County Superior Court Judge, Allen Nielson sentenced a woman who hit and killed a bicyclist last June to 40 months in jail on Dec. 27. Judge Nielson, who is retiring, presided over the sentencing of Amber Fast shortly after swearing in his elected replacement, Jessica Taylor Reeves.
Amber R. Fast, 28, pled guilty to one count of vehicular homicide after accidentally hitting a bicyclist on HWY 395 outside of Chewelah on June 20. Fast was intoxicated when she hit Jason M. Chambers, 31, who was riding a bicycle on the side of the road in the southbound lane at 11:20 p.m. The June 20 collision killed Chambers and threw the bicycle into the guardrail on the other side of the road.
The standard sentencing range for the crime of vehicular homicide is 78 to 102 months, but a plea deal with the Stevens County Prosecutor allowed for the range Judge Nielson could consider to be lowered in Fast’s case to zero to 102 months.
While Fast’s actions in the incident had been fully documented in the case, new facts regarding the behavior of Chambers were presented at the sentencing.
Fast’s defense lawyer, Mike Golden, pointed out that Chambers, who was wearing dark clothing and riding his bicycle in Fast’s lane of traffic, was intoxicated during the incident. Lab results showed Chambers had a blood alcohol level of .12. In addition, Golden said Chambers had been warned by law enforcement a few weeks prior to the incident that riding a bike near the highway without lights or reflective clothing was dangerous. Other motorists had also reported nearly hitting Chambers at other times on the same stretch of road.
Golden argued that while Fast was intoxicated during the incident and had smoked marijuana earlier in the day, the marijuana may have had significant impacts on Fast’s thought pattern prior to the incident.
“The marijuana available today is very different from what was available in the past. When Amber left the house, she was under the impression that her mother had left after a fight and she was going to look for her,” Golden said. “The sentencing range for this charge is Draconian and considering this fact pattern, it should be at a downward arch.”
At the sentencing friends and relatives of both Fast and the deceased Chambers were present with comments to Judge Nielson, asking either for harsh sentencing for Fast or a more measured approach for a woman with no prior criminal record.
Chambers’ mother, Barbara Chambers, participated in the sentencing via telephone and told Judge Nielson that Fast’s actions, “Took an amazing person with a lot of potential. I want her to know what her choice cost and I hope she rots in hell.”
Fast’s mother, Saundra Fast, was present at the sentencing and told Judge Nielson that the Fast family was “committed to helping Amber do better.”
“I am begging you for mercy,” said Saundra Fast, noting that Amber had recently been married on Dec. 18 and had never been in trouble before.
Fast, who wept openly throughout the sentencing apologized to the Chambers family and told Judge Nielson how the incident affected her.
“I am so sorry for what my actions have caused,” Fast said, noting that she has had to receive counselling for night terrors and other psychological issues related to the incident. She said she has enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous and requested treatment for her substance abuse issues.
After hearing from all parties, Judge Nielson said that vehicular homicide cases are the “most troubling” and that the sentencing for those cases was usually something like “a funeral.”
“These kinds of cases are the most troubling and the most difficult,” he said. “The hearings are something like a funeral and there is a kind of catharsis here that I hope can be of some benefit. Unfortunately, the judicial system can never fully right what has happened.”
Nielson noted that since he began practicing law in the 1980s, the sentencing for vehicular homicide cases has become “more punitive.”
“The sentencing for these cases has become more punitive over the years. When I started practicing law in the 1980s, I had several of these cases in Ferry County and at that time the maximum sentencing range was 36 months. These new sentencing standards are an effort by the legislature to try and discourage drinking and driving,” he said.
While Fast could have received over eight years in prison for the incident, Judge Nielsen said that there were “mitigating factors.”
“There are mitigating factors here, including a lack of criminal history and Mr. Chambers’ conduct during the incident,” said Judge Nielson. “But what horrifies me is the accelerating speed, from 101 to 103 miles per hour, at the time of the impact. Ms. Fast’s blood alcohol was also twice the legal limit. She said that she has been in her own personal hell since this happened and I can only imagine. But this is a serious case where there has been a death and that needs to be addressed.”
Judge Nielson sentenced Fast to 40 months in prison and 18 months community service. She will also pay restitution costs to the family for the cost of the funeral and the bicycle.