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Ex-Marine sentenced to a year in jail for vehicular manslaughter that killed fellow Marine
Friday, August 17th, 2012
Issue 33, Volume 16.
Andrew Stueber, 27, was convicted Feb. 8 of gross vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, but was acquitted of the more serious charge of manslaughter while intoxicated.
Deputy District Attorney Nancy Hayashida advocated for the maximum sentence of six years.
Orange County Superior Court Judge James Rogan noted Stueber's background as a Marine and his lack of criminal history, among many factors, in his decision to sentence him to time served in custody.
Stueber also did well in a 90-day program used to evaluate defendants in custody for alcohol-related crimes.
Technically, Stueber was sentenced to two years in state prison, but Rogan suspended that sentence and ordered him to serve five years in probation and one year behind bars.
Stueber was given credit for serving 400 days behind bars. If Stueber violates probation he could face the remaining prison sentence, Hayashida said.
Stueber apologized to the family of the victim, 22-year-old Edmund Vandecasteele, and his mother, father, sister and a friend spoke on his behalf at today's hearing.
Vandecasteele's mother, Lisa Vandecasteele, and his sister, Shana, told Rogan how his death has affected them.
"I will never get my brother back, I will never see his face again, I will never be happy again," Shana Vandecasteele said. "My heart is broken and empty. It will never be patched up and filled again."
Lisa Vandecasteele told the judge, "Eddie was not afraid to die for his country, he was not prepared to be killed by a fellow Marine on U.S. soil and neither were we... I have lived with the excruciating pain of burying my son. I have lost him forever. I cry every day."
Stueber, who was a lance corporal at the time, got behind the wheel of his Mustang after a night of drinking with three Marine buddies and crashed the car into a tree in San Clemente with such force that it split the vehicle in half and killed Vandecasteele.
The crash happened just after 2 a.m. on Aug. 1, 2009. Robert Nichols, who was 22 at the time, and Kyle Nance, who was 21, were injured in the crash.
Stueber and other Marines in his platoon started the day of the collision helping another solider based at Camp Pendleton move to a new apartment in Oceanside July 31, 2009, Nance testified.
They ate pizza in the afternoon as they packed up, but did not eat again until they went to a McDonald's drive-through just before the crash, Nance testified.
When they finished the move the four decided to go drinking at Goody's Tavern in San Clemente, with Stueber agreeing to be the designated driver, Nance testified.
Stueber poured himself a beer when they ordered a pitcher, arousing concern from Nance, he testified.
"I said, 'If you'regoing to drink, that's fine, just let us know so we can get a cab,"' Nance testified.
"He said he would be fine," and Stueber agreed to not drink again for the night, according to Nance.
Stueber spent most of the evening sending text messages and calling his girlfriend in Virginia and accepted a few free drinks from customers honoring his military service, Harley said.
Nance testified he was "pretty intoxicated" when the four closed down the bar and walked back to the Mustang, so he did not have a clear memory of everything that happened before the crash.
Nance recalled Nichols asked Stueber if he was OK to drive, and because Nance couldn't hear his reply he asked the same question.
"He said he was OK to drive," Nance testified.
The Marines had "Arrive Alive" cards issued to them that they could have used to get a taxi ride home even if they had no money, but they got into the car with Stueber driving, Nance testified.
Harley said Stueber's driving was fine as he got on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, got off, picked up food at the McDonald's drive-through and then drove to Nichols' apartment on Avenida Vista Montana.
Stueber missed the entrance to Nichols' apartment complex and had to make a U-turn.
Hayashida said Stueber spun the car around so quickly that it left skid marks and that he accelerated downhill back to the apartment building. The car's speed reached 57 mph, and it was going 27 mph to 33 mph when it slammed into a tree, shearing it in half, the prosecutor added.
"I got pushed back in my seat" the car was moving so fast, said Nance, who was in the back seat behind Stueber.
"I said, 'Slow down,' " Nance said, adding he shouted to Stueber over the roar of the engine. "I grabbed the seat to pull myself up to say it... It didn't feel right. I didn't feel safe."
Nance remembered blacking out momentarily following the collision.
"I woke up took my first breath and yelled an obscenity," Nance testified.
Nance said he used his military training to administer first aid to Vandecasteele, who had been in the front passenger seat, while Nichols tried to help Stueber, who was "knocked out cold, snoring."
Defense attorney Rob Harley said Stueber spent a month and a half in a hospital and almost died. Nichols and Nance suffered minor injuries, Hayashida said.
A blood test at the hospital about 50 minutes following the collision showed Stueber had a blood-alcohol level of .12 percent, over the legal limit of .08 percent, Hayashida said.
A different test meeting standards so the evidence can be used in court was conducted about 4 a.m. and showed his blood-alcohol level was .097 percent to .099 percent, Hayashida said.
Harley said the first blood test was not reliable evidence and that another test taken later showed Stueber's blood-alcohol level was .06. There was no evidence to prove Stueber was drunk at the time of the collision, Harley said.
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