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Driver in fatal accident set free

A Washington teen who killed his girlfriend in a November wreck near Eagle Point was freed Friday after the girl's mother pleaded for his release.

He needs to go home, Dee Hampton, of Olympia, Wash., told Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ray White. He's my last piece of my daughter.

James P. Ranahan, 19, has been in the Jackson County Jail since Nov. 21 when he rolled an Oldsmobile sedan on Highway 62 at about 12:50 a.m. His 24-year-old girlfriend, Sara G. Ellis, also of Olympia, was killed. Another passenger Brian S. Rushton, 22, of Peoria, Ariz., suffered broken bones.

Although OSP troopers found a marijuana pipe in the car, Ranahan told officers that it had been more than 12 hours since he had smoked any because the trio had run out. He said he felt drowsy before the crash and believed he fell asleep at the wheel.

This was three kids on a road trip, said Ranahan's defense attorney Don Scales. There was marijuana involved; there was careless behavior involved.

— Ranahan initially was indicted for second-degree manslaughter and third-degree assault. Prosecutors replaced the charges with criminally negligent homicide to which Ranahan pleaded guilty Friday in Circuit Court.

I couldn't prove that he was under the influence, said David Orr, deputy district attorney for Jackson County.

It wasn't clear exactly when he smoked the marijuana, Orr said.

Ranahan had no alcohol in his system. Rushton's blood-alcohol level after the wreck measured .08, Oregon's legal limit. Ranahan told troopers that he drove because Rushton, who owned the car, was too drunk. Witnesses said that the Oldsmobile ' without braking ' crossed the opposing lane of traffic, hit a ditch and flipped into the air.

Finding that drug treatment and social service programs were more likely to prevent Ranahan from re-offending, White sentenced the teen to three years on probation.

Now I have to live in my own prison for the rest of my life, Ranahan sobbed.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail Driver in fatal accident set free"slemon@mailtribune.com.