The driver who crashed at the Neon Cruise a year ago seriously injuring several people was sentenced to 45 days in jail, ordered to pay over $71,000 in restitution and given a one-year license suspension Wednesday.
Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley had asked that Ronald Leroy Madorin, 54, be sentenced to 364 days in jail and have his license suspended for five years.
He said the case had high community interest, and with the next Neon Cruise set for two days hence, on Friday, Aug. 9, he also wanted the sentencing to send a message that doing burn outs at the Cruise are not allowed.
Victim Jessica Byers wept on the stand as she testified to how her husband, Craig Byers, became a different man who was prone to angry outbursts after the serious brain injury he suffered when the parked Ford Expedition that was struck by Madorin’s car was shoved onto him.
She said were it not for her faith and the support of her family, they would’ve been divorced by now.
Madorin was stopped at a red light at the intersection of East Second and Washington streets shortly after the Neon Cruise event ended on Aug. 10, 2018. When the light changed, his powerful 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air sprang forward, up on its two back wheels, hit the parked Expedition, flipped on its top and caught fire.
Madorin escaped uninjured and his girlfriend escaped with minor injury. The Expedition was shoved up on the curb and into the crowd on the sidewalk.
Nisley said there was “a guardian angel” that night in the form of Salvador Marquez, whose Ford Expedition was parked on the south side of Second, near a crowded beer garden in the former J.C. Penney parking lot. Were it not for the Expedition being there, “there would’ve been multiple fatalities given the speed of the car and the hundreds of people in the beer garden,” Nisley said.
Madorin’s car was travelling an estimated 40 mph when it hit the Expedition, he said.
Later, Marquez said, “Everybody says I’m the hero. No, I’m not. My car was.” He said since the crash he doesn’t like the sound of a noisy car.
He said he was working the Cruise again this year, and he planned to park in the same place.
Madorin told police his car was “stumbling” when he began driving once the light turned green, so he gave it some gas and the throttle stuck. Nisley called several witnesses, self-described “car guys” who’d each attended hundreds of drag races, and they said they didn’t hear or see Madorin’s car stumble, but rather it was steadily being revved and the car “launched” once the light turned green, its front wheels high off the ground as it rocketed forward.
“I did not see it hesitate,” said witness Terry Luth, and he would’ve noticed if it had.
One witness said he’d seen the car do a “wheelie” one other time prior to the accident.
Madorin told police his car stumbled earlier in the evening, and he pulled over. He also denied to police that the front end of his car came off the ground.
Madorin pleaded guilty to seven charges, some of which were felonies, but they were treated as misdemeanors at sentencing. He pleaded guilty to third and fourth degree assault, reckless endangering and reckless driving.
Wasco County Circuit Court Judge Janet Stauffer said at sentencing that Madorin was “extremely consistent” about taking responsibility for the accident in separate interviews with five police officers, whose questions she said were “pretty accusatory.”
She said she believed Madorin was “trying to show off” and that attempt “had a pretty major effect.”
Madorin, who had no previous criminal history, was given credit for the three days he’d already served in jail a year ago. He is to start his sentence by 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 9.
His attorney said Madorin was fired from his job after he was charged, and he hasn’t been able to find work since.
He was ordered to pay $2,580 in restitution to the man who owned the Ford Expedition, which was totaled, and to pay $69,097.75 to Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield for treatment of the injuries sustained by Craig Byers.
Craig Byers recounted, “I was struck by the SUV and everything went black.” He was lifeflighted to Portland with a broken C-1 vertebrae, the top vertebrae on the spine, a fractured skull, and moderate to severe brain damage.
He lost his job as a computer technician—though he said he was “lucky enough to find a new job to support my family”—and found he had difficulty learning and focusing. He completely lost his sense of smell for most of a year, but now can smell certain things on certain days.
He can’t smell things that might be dangerous, such as a gas leak, and he considers that a danger to himself.
He said the injury has “greatly affected me.” As for personality changes, he said, “I would fly into rages over nothing,” though he says it’s getting better.
His knees have been hurting ever since, and he is on pain medication now.
Jessica Byers said she was hit on her right hip by the tire of the Expedition, her ankle was hurt, and she also injured her neck from being spun around so fast.
She had a fracture in her lower back. “It is something that will never heal and at this point there is pain that I live with every day.”
Should it reach a point where numbness develops in her legs from that injury, she said she could have surgery, but the surgery isn’t recommended because of the long recovery time. She has massage therapy to help her.
Rebecca Cimmiyotti testified that the Expedition hit her on the right side and she couldn’t move her arm for four days. She called the 45-day sentence “ridiculous.”
Nisley said, “The victims are devastated. I guess I can say I’m disappointed. I thought this warranted more jail.”
Nina Jallen said she knocked over her daughter as she fled, and her daughter hurt her elbow. Jallen strained her back as she fled, and had to quit her job as a hotel maid.
Madorin became emotional as he read a statement to the court in which he said, “I’m sorry, I never intended to hurt anyone that day.” He said, “If I could take it back, I would.” He added, “I want to apologize not only for the physical injuries, but for the strained marriage.”
He said he “wasn’t trying to race anyone” and added, “I regret hitting the gas so hard as I did to save it from dying.”
He said he felt God was watching out that night. “I thank God no one died.”
Witnesses said as Madorin and another car were stopped at the light, the other driver was revving his engine and yelling to Madorin. Both vehicles were revving their engines, witnesses said.
Defense attorney Jerrett Glass called forensic automotive expert Mark Olson, who testified via phone that parts of the car relevant to the throttle looked damaged in photos taken before the Neon Cruise.
Rick Rivard, of Prosser, Wash., who sold the Bel Air to Madorin, testified that he kept his cars spotless and that there would not have been a bent piece of equipment because he would’ve fixed it. He said the car when he had it never had a problem with the throttle sticking, or any other mechanical problems.
He’d traded the car to Madorin just a month earlier. Madorin already had the car listed for sale on Craigslist, and had said he did a quarter-mile in 9.36 seconds, which Rivard said was impressive, and had gotten the car up to 136 mph.
Rivard was asked by Nisley if he would’ve jammed on the gas in order to prevent his car from stumbling, as Madorin said he’d done. Rivard said, ‘I don’t do stuff like that. You’ve gotta know when things are right and things are wrong. Wrong spot and wrong time.”
Cimmiyoti said after the sentencing, “We’re gonna go to the cruise again, but I’m gonna watch where I stand this time.”