Anchorage drunk driver sentenced to 15 years for killing woman

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A man with a 20-year record of drunken driving convictions who hit and killed a young woman while driving drunk last year was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison.

Russell Carlson, 40, was on Minnesota Drive the night of July 3, 2000, when he lost control of his pickup, hit a car, and drove onto the sidewalk. There he hit honor student Jessie Withrow, 20, who was riding her bicycle.

Carlson had seven previous DWI convictions and a blood-alcohol content of 0.24, more than twice the legal limit. Withrow died the next day.

Superior Court Judge Dan Hensley said he hoped the sentence would deter others from drunken driving. Carlson faced a minimum sentence of 10 years. He pleaded no contest in July to second-degree murder and DWI in return for the state dismissing manslaughter, child endangerment and other charges. Carlson's 2-year-old son was in the pickup with him.

Carlson's record of alcohol problems and community outrage over Withrow's death also influenced the sentence, Hensley said.

''Our courts have commented that drunk driving is a little bit like Russian roulette, but the victim isn't the guy with the gun to his head pulling the trigger,'' he said. ''The victim is selected by fate.''

Withrow was a 1998 graduate of Stellar Secondary School and an active community volunteer. At the time of her death, she was home for summer break from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where she had helped start an organization of students against college drinking.

Her mother, Wendy Withrow, was not at court Friday, but family friend Ray Booker was there to speak on her behalf.

''To say that Jessie was a bright, energetic, enthusiastic and loving daughter and child is an understatement,'' Booker said. Jessie Withrow, an only child, and her mother were so close that sometimes ''they truly worked as one,'' he said.

In a brief statement to the court, Carlson begged forgiveness of Withrow's mother, family and friends.

''I should never have been drinking and driving,'' he said. ''I feel for them, because I know how it is to lose a family member. It hurts real bad.''

Alaska legislators chose the date of Withrow's death for Drunk Driving Victim Remembrance Day in Alaska.

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