By: Patti Weaver
(Stillwater, Okla.) — At the close of an extremely emotional sentencing hearing last week, a Payne County judge granted a family’s plea that a Stillwater man not be incarcerated for causing the death of his 12-year-old stepson by drunk driving at Sanborn Lake.
Addressing 37-year-old Dustin Scott Calhoun, whose blood alcohol was twice the legal limit when he lost control of his pickup truck and crashed into a tree at 5:49 p.m. on March 21, 2016, Associate District Judge Stephen Kistler bluntly said, “What you did that day is totally inexcusable.”
Stillwater Police Officer Chance Whiteley had described a horrific scene with one child dead, his 11-year-old brother badly shaken, and their stepfather incoherent and crying. Stillwater Police Officer Michael Casteel said improper speed on the winding road caused the crash — adding, “The bark on one side of the tree was completely gone.”
Before announcing that Calhoun would receive probation instead of prison, the judge recounted to him: “You and your boys had gone fishing. You were intoxicated and lost control of your pickup on a gravel road. Curtis’s head hit the tree.” The judge said that the emotional injuries to the younger boy, who survived the horrid crash, remain unknown.
A week before Calhoun was scheduled to have a jury trial, he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the 12-year-old boy’s death and child endangerment of the 11-year-old boy — without an agreement with the prosecution regarding his sentence.
At the Feb.19 sentencing hearing, the judge told Calhoun, “If I send you to prison or jail, the criminal justice system would be punishing your family. I have heard from those victims,” referring to his family members who testified on his behalf. “They have all very forcefully said they don’t want you incarcerated.”
The judge added, “The DA wants you to go to prison and rightfully so…I believe reasonable rehabilitation provisions can be made for you in the community.”
To the tremendous relief of Calhoun’s family, the judge told Calhoun that for first-degree manslaughter he would be on probation for 12 years with random drug and alcohol testing, a SCRAM alcohol monitor, mental and substance abuse assessments, a requirement that he follow all their recommendations, family counseling sensitive to the desires of the younger boy in the crash, a victim impact panel, 150 hours of community service within 24 months, with three hours credit for every one hour he serves on a victim impact panel by sharing his story, and an interlock device on his vehicle if he ever drives again.
The judge gave Calhoun a concurrent four-year probationary sentence for child endangerment plus $1,900 in assessments and court costs.
At the end of the three-hour hearing last week, the judge said, “Mr. Calhoun, I think the sentence I’ve imposed is just. Your performance the rest of your life will determine if it is just. You owe a lot to your wife for sticking with you. Mr. Calhoun, I wish you and your family well.”
After court adjourned, the victim’s maternal grandfather, Dean Beaver, said that the judge thanked him for his testimony.
Beaver had told the judge in court that he was incarcerated for a long period of time in Kansas and Missouri. He said he had been an enforcer for a motorcycle club and got out of prison on May 8, 2016, after serving 16 and one-half years on his last sentence.
“Incarceration either makes you worse or it rehabilitates you.
“I’ve gone to love Dustin in the three and one-half years I’ve been out,” but Beaver admitted that when he learned about the fatal crash “I wanted to kill him.
“Dustin calls me in the middle of the night crying. We’ve gotten close. We talk about it all the time. I’m not soft on him. We all are grieving for the rest of our life.
“All prison is going to do is tear him down and tear my family down,” the victim’s grandfather told the judge in court.
Called as the final witness by defense attorney Sarah Kennedy, Calhoun said, “I made a terrible decision, the worst one in my life. I lost my son. If I could take his place, I would.” He admitted he had been drinking whiskey before the crash in which his neck and several vertebra were broken. “I relive it every day…I’m sorry for what I’ve done.”
After listening to Calhoun’s family members and employers testify that he was a good man who deserved a second chance, prosecutor Kevin Etherington told the judge, “I am not unsympathetic to this family’s pleas to the court,” but noted that the Department of Corrections in a pre-sentencing report recommended incarceration.
“A 12-year-old boy lost his life in this crash. We’re here to seek justice for the boy killed in this crash,” the prosecutor said.