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Judge gives teen six months for crash

Todd Duffner, 19, ran down bicyclist islander Ernie Franz last summer.

A Bainbridge Island man who drove drunk and hit a bicyclist – days after a good friend of his own was killed in a drunk-driving accident – has been sentenced to a six-month jail term and substance abuse treatment.

Todd Duffner, 19, was taken into custody Jan. 18, immediately after being sentenced by Kitsap Superior Court Judge Jay B. Roof.

Duffner pleaded guilty to vehicular assault while under the influence.

It was the first time the defendant had met the victim of the crash, emergency room doctor Ernie Franz, 46, who nearly lost his life when Duffner struck him from behind while driving 50 mph on High School Road on August 23.

As Franz entered the courtroom aided by a walker, Duffner burst into tears, witnesses said. Many were shed in the courtroom, as Franz detailed how the crash had affected him and his family.

Franz told the court how he wanted to be a doctor from the time he was 12 years old, and how he spent 18 years working to achieve that goal, according to court transcripts. He spoke of how he tried to be a model for his patients by being active physically; he was an avid cyclist.

That changed after the crash, when he was rushed to Harborview with fractures to his spine, right leg and eight ribs, a lacerated liver and two broken arms.

Damage to his nerves persists, affecting his hands and legs, he said, and it may be a year or two before he can return to work, if ever.

Franz’s wife Gwen can’t work either, as she has become her husband’s full-time caregiver, as well as caring for the couple’s three children.

“I wanted to say that the losses my family and I have suffered, we’re hoping that some justice would be brought about in this situation,” Franz told the court. “Not so much for my sake, but for the sake of the youth in our community who are both underage drinkers and drivers.”

Franz said he hoped other youths in the community would take heed of the tragic consequences of drinking and driving, a connection that Duffner did not make, he said, despite the death of his friend Rebecca Phillips in a drunk-driving crash on North Madison Avenue days earlier.

“The thing that strikes me,” Franz said, “is that despite the tragic death of his friend due to drinking and driving two days prior to my accident, Todd seemed to fail to learn from that lesson, in that he decided to go ahead and drink and drive himself, and the result of that is that we are here today.”

Then he directed his comments to Duffner, saying his life and health “have been broken and shattered,” and that his “mission in life to the sick and injured has been taken from me, at least for now.”

Franz added that he was still trying to forgive Duffner for the accident. He did, he said, hope that Duffner would “make something beautiful out of (his) life,” and work to help others prevent such accidents in the future.

Franz then left the courtroom, and Judge Roof asked Duffner if there was anything he wanted to say.

“Just that there is no saying how sorry I can be,” Duffner replied, according to transcripts. “Like, since that day, I haven’t been the same. I haven’t really been able to eat or sleep. It’s been pretty horrible.”

Roof responded: “Well, the emergency room doctor hasn’t been the same since that day either. And unlike you, he doesn’t have a lot of control on his recovery, but you can.

“...All (Franz) has asked you to do (is) learn from this and earn an opportunity to make a positive difference in your life and the lives of others,” Roof said. “ He didn’t ask for revenge. He didn’t ask for punishment except as to make other kids understand that there are consequences of their actions...And the graciousness of that man, I hope you take and embrace.”

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