The driver in a crash that killed two Federal Way teenagers days before their high school graduation last year pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of vehicular homicide.
Alexander E. Peder, 51, could be sentenced to up to 8½ years in prison for the two counts with an enhancement for driving under the influence. Tests showed that Peder’s blood-alcohol content after the crash was 0.16, twice the legal limit for drivers.
As more than 20 friends and family members of the two victims looked on, Peder entered his plea at the Regional Justice Center in Kent.
Even if Peder receives the maximum sentence next month, it won’t be enough for Darrel Hodgins, the father of 18-year-old Nicholas Hodgins, who was killed in the crash.
“I just think it’s a slap in the face for everybody,” Darrel Hodgins said after the hearing. “It’s unacceptable. He murdered two people.”
Peder, of Kirkland, was drinking when he crashed his Ford Explorer into a disabled Honda Civic that was stopped in the center lane of southbound Interstate 5 in Tukwila on June 9, 2010, according to court documents.
Derek King, 18, a passenger in the back seat of the Honda, died at the scene. Hodgins, a passenger in the front seat, died the next day at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Both were due to graduate within days from Decatur High School.
The Honda’s driver, Anthony Beaver, then a 19-year-old Decatur senior, was treated and released from Harborview.
A Washington State Patrol trooper found a half-full bottle of vodka in Peder’s Explorer after the 10:30 p.m. crash, along with a marijuana pipe and a substance that later tested positive for marijuana.
Peder has two previous driving-under-the-influence charges. One resulted in a conviction for negligent driving in 1998. The other resulted in a conviction for reckless endangerment in 2008.
Last September, King County District Court Judge Richard Bathum revoked Peder’s one-year suspended sentence for the reckless endangerment conviction and imposed a one-year jail sentence because of Peder’s involvement in the crash that killed the Federal Way teens.
A judge could add the remainder of that sentence to the sentence Peder receives from his plea Wednesday or it could run concurrently.
Peder originally pleaded not guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide on June 23, 2010.
A King County prosecutor said her office will recommend the maximum sentence of 8½ years. The minimum in Peder’s range is seven years, five months. John Wolfe, Peder’s attorney, said he hasn’t decided what sentence he will recommend.
At one point during Wednesday’s 15-minute hearing, Peder appeared shaken when a prosecutor asked if his written statement admitting he caused the deaths was accurate.
Peder’s voice cracked as he nodded and said “yes,” later wiping away tears.
Friends and family of the victims broke into applause in the courtroom after King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill said she accepted Peder’s guilty plea. Most wore white T-shirts with either King’s or Hodgins’ photo, a picture of the crashed Honda, and the phrase “DUI Laws Time for Change.”
They cried and hugged one another after the hearing.
“I want my son back,” said Darrel Hodgins, 47. “I will never be the same. It’s ruined everybody’s lives.”
Like Nicholas Hodgin’s father, Derek King’s brother said he supports stricter DUI penalties. But tougher laws won’t erase Jared King’s pain.
“My brother’s gone,” said Jared King, 21. “I lost my best friend.”
Peder remains in custody at the Regional Justice Center in lieu of $1 million bail. His sentencing is set for March 25 at the justice center.