Last Fourth of July, Joshua Puckett and some friends were in his boat, cruising across Commencement Bay after Tacoma’s Freedom Fair fireworks show.
On Tuesday, Puckett was in Pierce County Superior Court, where he pleaded guilty to a boat crash that killed his best friend and seriously injured two strangers.
Puckett, 45, was sentenced to four years in prison in the crash in which Douglas Foster died. The body of the 47-year-old Portland man has never been found.
Vicki Brown of Graham lost an arm in the crash. Tuesday, she told the court that every part of her life has changed since that day.
“There is no amount of prison time that can ever compare to the life sentence that I received,” she said. “... The world is made for people with two arms and two hands.”
Driving, reading, putting on makeup and other routine daily tasks have become a challenge, Brown said.
“...I will never be able to wrap my arms around my grandchildren and hug them,” she said.
Shortly after the fireworks show on July 4, 2015, Puckett drove his 22-foot plastic Wellcraft boat into the 17-foot aluminum Hewescraft vessel carrying Vicki and Robert Brown, both who were badly hurt.
According to charging papers, investigators found several liquor bottles near Puckett’s boat. They said he had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech after the wreck.
Puckett pleaded guilty to watercraft homicide in Foster’s death, and entered Alford pleas to two counts of watercraft assault. That means he maintains his innocence but admits there likely would be enough evidence to convict him at trial.
Defense attorney Michael Stewart said after court that his client had the right of way that night.
But he pointed out that had Puckett gone to trial and been vindicated of the assault charges but convicted of the homicide, he likely would have faced essentially the same prison term he got with the plea agreement.
Prosecutors dismissed a third assault charge.
Puckett faced a sentencing range of three to four years for the homicide, and 15 to 20 months for each of the assaults. Because of the extent of Vicki Brown’s injuries, both sides agreed to recommend an exceptional sentence of four years for her assault.
Both sides also recommended a sentence of three years for the homicide, and 20 months for Robert Brown’s assault.
Judge Michael Schwartz agreed to all that, and ordered Puckett to serve the sentences concurrently.
Foster’s parents, W.S. and Sally B. Foster, wrote the court before sentencing about their missing son’s friend.
“Doug told us that Joshua had left Oregon to care for his sick mother in Washington,” the couple said. “... Joshua will live with this terrible memory of the accident and those who were injured or drowned for the rest of his life.”
They asked that Schwartz consider letting Puckett stay with his mother, who is terminally ill, instead of sending him to prison.
Foster had gotten a job as a professor at Georgia State University shortly before his death, Stewart said.
Tuesday would have been his birthday.
Given an opportunity to speak, Puckett told the court: “All I can say is that I could never be able to properly convey how devastated I am. My heart goes out to the Browns, and I wish every day for their recovery.”
Schwartz told him that, when he gets out of prison, he should remember daily the effect his decisions can have on other lives.
Puckett said he would.