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Tremonton man headed to prison for DUI crash that paralyzed teen, spurred new Utah law

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Karl Ricks, a Community Nursing Services physical therapist, spots Sarah Frei as she loses her balance and stabilizes herself after hitting a bump where the driveway meets the road outside of her home in Syracuse on Nov. 17, 2020. Sarah and three other teenagers were in a vehicle that was hit by a drunken driver, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down and a double amputee. On Friday, April 23, 2021, Dustin Wesley Andersen, 46, who pleaded guilty to four DUI charges, was sentenced to least two and up to 12 years in the Utah State Prison,

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Sarah Frei loves hiking and wakeboarding, but the thing she misses most is cruising on her red motorcycle with her father trailing just behind.

The open-road quality time is now “a memory that I will cherish forever, because I won’t get it back,” Frei, 18, told a Utah judge.

Almost a year ago, a pickup truck in Logan Canyon swerved and crashed into a car carrying Frei and three friends on their way back from vacation at Bear Lake, partially paralyzing Frei and injuring the other three. Two now have routine panic attacks, while another says the images from that night are seared in his memory.

After emotional pleas from the teens and their parents, 2nd District Judge Brandon Maynard handed down the maximum penalty for the driver who pleaded guilty to DUI in the crash.

Maynard on Monday sentenced Dustin Wesley Andersen, 46, to serve at least two and up to 12 years in the Utah State Prison, citing “the tragic and horrific physical and psychological consequences based on a simple choice.”

Andersen admitted to reduced charges in March as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to four DUI charges: two third-degree felonies and two class A misdemeanors.

After the amputation of her legs, Frei said others stare when they see her in public, and even going to a friend’s home requires several people who can help carry her inside.

“People are scared of me, which is extra hard, because I feel like I haven’t changed,” she said. “I feel like I’m still the same person, which makes it 10 times harder.

She’s said she’s not eligible for prosthetics because of the paralysis in her hips. Still, she said, “I choose to find ways to be happy.”

Her father, Greg Frei, said that she’s inspired tens of thousands via her Instagram page, appearances on national television shows and talks she’s given.

After his arrest, Andersen posted bond within hours, causing concern among state legislators and prompting the Utah Legislature to pass “Sarah’s law,” a measure stipulating that certain DUI suspects don’t have a right to bail.

On Monday, Cache County Attorney James Swink argued Andersen knew the risks but chose to get behind the wheel of his truck and drive about 60 miles from Tremonton to Bear Lake with an ATV in tow.

Swink argued for the consecutive sentences the judge ultimately ordered, saying they would deter Andersen and others from driving under the influence in the future. Andersen had a blood alcohol level of 0.22% about three hours after the crash, Swink said, and the teens now face a lifetime of pain.

“The problem with these types of cases and why this case is so troubling to the whole community is because it could be us or our children who are in that canyon at that untimely moment, when this accident occurred, and it could have been prevented,” he said.

Defense attorney Vincent Stevens advocated for jail time for his client, saying a longer prison term would prevent him from being able to work so he can pay restitution to the victims.

Andersen, wearing a face mask and tie, apologized to the teenagers and their families and said he’s completed an in-patient rehab program.

“While I realized I had a drinking problem, I didn’t ever think that I was affecting anybody else. I certainly never intended to cause any problems, and never thought I could hurt anyone. Obviously, this was delusional thinking,” he said.

Victim advocate Tonya Ryan described the heroic efforts of others who were driving in the canyon at the time of the crash and stopped to help, worried that there were no survivors. One good Samaritan was a paramedic who rendered aid to the teenagers as crews rushed to the scene, Ryan said.

The car’s driver, Taevey Davis, said she’s still walking with a limp as she recovers from a broken femur but hopes she’ll heal physically by 2022. She used to thrive in social settings, she said, but she began feeling uncomfortable around others and started to have panic attacks.

“That’s just kind of become a normal, which is unfortunate, because the bottom line is this is something that could have been prevented,” she said.

Her mother, Amy Davis, pleaded tearfully with the judge to keep Andersen off the roads for as long as possible.

Josh Harrison recalled being treated in the hospital for a broken collarbone and punctured lung, wondering whether his friends would survive.

“It’s not something that can be fixed,” he said. “It’s permanent.”

The friends went to Bear Lake that weekend at the invitation of Brooke Watson’s family, and spent time around a campfire, fishing and riding jet skis before returning home that day.

Watson said her injuries were the least severe, so she feels guilty. For a time, she had trouble falling asleep at night because she would close her eyes and see the truck swerving toward their car, with only two of its wheels on the ground.

“I go to bed in tears a lot, just remembering all the memories and just being so sad for my friends and what they have gone through,” she said.

Andersen was originally charged with four third-degree felony counts of DUI as well as reckless driving, a class B misdemeanor.

Maynard ordered him to consecutive prison terms of up to five years in prison for the two felony convictions and a year each for the misdemeanor charges.