January 25, 1999
George Moorhead, center, waits with his attorney, Joseph Schlosser, left, while court papers are filled out.
Staff photo by Andrew Walgamott.
by Andrew Walgamott, staff reporter
KENT--George Moorhead was given a light sentence for the deaths of three men that would also allow him to continue his work saving lives, but his future as a Woodinville fireman is unclear.
The Woodinville Fire & Life Safety District's board of commissioners may hold a special meeting to address Moorhead's continuing employment this week, if not discuss it at their Feb. 2 meeting.
Moorhead, who was convicted of killing Tien Thai, Huu Hoang, and Phu Hunyh in a traffic accident and sentenced to one year in the King County jail last week, will be eligible for work release. According to a King County Prosecutor's office spokesman, work release allows an inmate to work and fulfill court requirements in their waking hours, and mandates they spend their sleeping hours in jail. Moorhead is to report to jail within six weeks.
Moorhead, 31, has been with Woodinville Fire for 12 years, and is now a senior firefighter. Outside the court, he told TV cameras that he hopes to continue working as a firefighter.
But according to Fire Chief Steve Smith, the district is awaiting news from two fronts. Smith said the district is waiting for certified mail from their insurance company on whether they'll continue to insure Moorhead. He also said any time an emergency medical technician is charged with a felony, it must be reviewed by the state, and the district is awaiting word on that, as well.
And whether Moorhead is disciplined by the district depends on his continued employment, Smith said. The five-member fire board, which hires and fires, will decide Moorhead's future, Smith said. Chairman Frank Peep, who had not officially heard what sentence Moorhead had received Friday night, couldn't give a statement for print.
Still, after 19 long months between accident and sentencing, last week's decision gave Moorhead a foothold. "I get to plan for tomorrow for the first time in two years," he told reporters.
Moorhead said he had expected jail time but was "pleasantly surprised" with Judge LeRoy McCullough's sentence, and said the King County Superior Court judge wouldn't be disappointed with his contributions to the victim's families and the community.
In sentencing below the 36-to-48-month standard range, McCullough noted the fact Moorhead stayed at the accident scene attempting to render aid, his compensating of the families without waiting for the court, and was of the opinion the defendant didn't pose a threat to society. The judge also deflected Deputy Prosecutor Rod Scarr's intimation that an exceptionally lenient sentence would lessen the public's regard for the law.
By imposing 12 months in county prison and 12 months of community service, McCullough said, "I believe the court adequately sentences Mr. Moorhead for what happened, and sends a message to others that protects the law."
Just past midnight on June 14, 1997, Moorhead left a going-away party for friends in Renton. Speeding up an unfamiliar street, he ran a stop sign and crashed his vehicle into a small car carrying Thai, Hunyh, and Hoang, killing them all. It wasn't until last March that he was charged with three counts of vehicular homicide, and then in October was convicted of acting with disregard of others.
Afterwards, his supporters, and a few jurors, flooded McCullough with 70 to 100 letters. And last Friday his family, friends, and co-workers packed the courtroom. Four came forward offering testaments to his character.
Pat Nicholas has known Moorhead since he was a young boy. "George is an asset to all of us. To put him in a negative environment would be a sad, sad, sad thing for society," she said.
George Graves, a broker who's known Moorhead for seven years, said he'd be proud to have him as his son.
None of the victim's families appeared in court, but defense attorney Joseph Schlosser produced a taped statement from Nguyen Nguyet, widow of Huu Hoang. Recorded the day before, the woman said through a Vietnamese interpreter, "I'd like the court to have leniency for the defendant who caused the accident that killed my husband. It was just an accident; there was no intention."
While Moorhead never denied responsibility for killing the three men, he also argued that the intersection where the accident occurred was faulty and promised to continue working to improve it.
But Scarr said there had been one accident there in the past 12 years, though he again acknowledged Moorhead's contributions back to society. "We all admire his character, but he should be punished," Scarr said just prior to sentencing. "George Moorhead gets to start his life over... One year for Tien Thai, one year for Huu Hoang, and one year for Phu Hunyh is legally appropriate and fair."
Schlosser had argued that there wouldn't be any benefit to jailing Moorhead, and called McCullough's decision "an appropriate sentence." He said society's need for punishment was satisfied.
It was reported that Scarr was unsure of appealing the sentence.
Now, Woodinville fire commissioners will be called on to make a decision that may or may not alter Moorhead's life more than it already has been.