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Man gets 31 months for killing Bonney Lake youth pastor in car wreck

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on March 31, 2011 at 3:34 pm with No Comments »
March 31, 2011 3:51 pm

By all accounts, Samuel Stephens and Joseph McNeil were young men going places.

Hardworking and well liked, they had bright futures.

That all ended for Stephens the night of Sept. 6 when McNeil got behind the wheel drunk and slammed his four-wheel drive into Stephens’ car in the town of Pacific.

Stephens, 24 and a resident of the Graham area, died. The youth pastor at a Bonney Lake church was to be married two weeks later.

This afternoon, an emotional McNeil apologized to Stephens’ family and friends before being sentenced to two years, seven months in prison for vehicular homicide.

“It was a poor choice, and I’m sorry,” said McNeil, 30, who pleaded guilty as charged March 15.

Stephens’ parents, sister and fiancée all addressed Pierce County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin before sentencing.

They described Stephens’ as a joy to be around. He was quirky, funny and God-fearing, they said.

“I’ve never felt more alone in my entire life,” said Emily Nolte, Stephens’ fiancée.

Mike Stephens, the victim’s father, asked those assembled not to let their loss embitter them.

“We’re going to get through this thing,” he said.

Defense attorney Brett Purtzer said his client has a 5-year-old son he adores.

“This is an aberration in an otherwise law-abiding life,” Purtzer said.

Martin told the more than 50 people assembled in her small courtroom that there were no winners in the case.

She acknowledged the “unspeakable sadness” McNeil’s actions wrought on Stephens’ family but said she was convinced McNeil is “truly remorseful” about what happened.

The judge accepted the recommendation of deputy prosecutor Tim Jones and Purtzer for a sentence at the low end of the range. The high end was three years, five months.

Martin then exhorted McNeil to talk to community groups about the dangers of drunken driving when he’s released from prison.

“Perhaps you can keep someone else from making that same horrible choice,” she said.


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