SALT LAKE CITY — A West Jordan man serving a maximum of 45 years in prison after he was found to have drugs in his system in a crash that killed an 18-month-old boy will get a new sentence, the Utah State Court of Appeals has ordered.
In an opinion handed down Thursday, the appellate court agreed with Thomas Randall Ainsworth, 59, that conflicting statutes in Utah law made him eligible for a second-degree felony conviction and a one-to-15-year prison sentence while similar offenders with greater levels of intoxication would only face third-degree felony charges.
"There does not appear to be any rational basis for charging users of nonprescribed Schedule I or II controlled substances who have a measurable amount of controlled substance in their body, but not enough to render them incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle, with a higher degree crime than users of nonprescribed Schedule I or II controlled substances who have so much controlled substance in their body that they are demonstrably unsafe to operate a vehicle," Judge Russell Bench wrote in the appellate court's decision.
Ainsworth tested positive for THC and methamphetamine after the Christmas Eve crash killed 18-month-old Colum Pack and injured his parents and a 3-year-old brother in 2011. Ainsworth claimed he was reaching for a cellphone that had fallen on the floor when his Suburban jumped the median near 9000 South and 700 West and slammed head-on into the American Fork family's Subaru Outback.
Ainsworth pleaded guilty in July 2013 to three counts of operating a vehicle and negligently causing injury or death. Because of the illegal drugs in his system at the time of the crash, the charges were all second-degree felonies under the state's Measurable Amount Statute.
However, under the Automobile Homicide Statute and the DUI With Serious Injury Statute, a similar crash caused by someone intoxicated to the point that he or she is incapable of operating a vehicle would have carried only third-degree felony charges. The decision by the appellate court points out that those two statutes "apply to individuals under the influence of 'any drug'" but who are intoxicated to a greater degree.
The Utah Court of Appeals remanded the case back to 3rd District Court to be reclassified with third-degree felony charges, which carry potential sentences of zero to five years in prison, and to be resentenced.
Ainsworth was sentenced to three consecutive terms of one to 15 years in prison in September 2013 by then 3rd District Judge Deno Himonas.
In his appeal, Ainsworth also argued that Himonas' imposition of consecutive sentences in the original case was excessive. Though the ruling by the court of appeals invalidates the issue, Thursday's decision noted that the consecutive order was not inappropriate.
A new sentencing date has not been scheduled.