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Driver sentenced in Tooele County fatal car crash

Jeffrey Harrison receives three prison terms of zero-to-five years.
Jeffrey Harrison receives three prison terms of zero-to-five years.
Troy Boman, Associated Press

TOOELE — A man who prosecutors say drove drunk the wrong way on I-80 and slammed into a car, killing three people, was sentenced to prison Tuesday.

Jeffrey M. Harrison, 23, a former Washington state resident who lived in Park City, previously pleaded no contest to three counts of third-degree felony automobile homicide.

Third District Judge Mark Kouris sentenced Harrison to three prison terms of zero-to-five years in prison, with two of them to run consecutively and the third to run concurrently to the first two.

Harrison was driving a pickup truck with marijuana in his system and a blood alcohol level of 0.11 when he crashed into a car Nov. 25, 2006, about 11 miles west of Knolls in Tooele County. Police do not know how long Harrison was driving in the wrong lane on the interstate.

His defense attorney, Walter Romney Jr., said that either Harrison's intoxication, or more likely head injuries sustained in the crash, have wiped out all memories of that night, including the 12 hours before the collision.

Killed were Vakataha Mila, 42, of West Valley City, who was driving. Also killed were passengers Valentine Kioa, 50, and Sosaio Fehoko, 69, both of Salt Lake City. Another passenger, a 30-year-old woman, was seriously injured and hospitalized, but survived.

Kioa's wife, Tivinia, was present in court but did not want to speak for fear of becoming too emotional. A letter she wrote to Harrison's parents, which was read aloud in court by victim advocate Holly Johnson, said Kioa has forgiven Harrison. "The way I believe, those who do not forgive have the greater sin."

Still, the crash left a wide swath of grief. Lomani Dietz, sister of Vakataha Mila, spoke of how hard her brother worked to care for his family and how he was studying to become a youth minister in the Church of Tonga.

"Telling our mother and his son (about the death) was the most painful job I had to do in my life," she said.

Although her brother was not a wealthy man, "his life meant something — he was loved and he loved back." She urged the judge to use the sentencing as a message to the community about the heartbreaking results of drunken driving.

"I'm immensely sorry for everything I've done," Harrison said, tearfully apologizing to the victims and his own family.

Later, Tooele County Attorney Douglas Hogan said the state Legislature should forget about measuring any levels of sobriety because this calls upon someone who has already been drinking to decide whether he is sober enough to drive — a situation Hogan describes as a set-up for failure.

Instead, he advocates adopting a "not a drop" law for everyone. People who choose to drink would then have to arrange for a designated driver, call a cab or somehow line up transportation without taking the wheel themselves.