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DUII driver gets 18 months for killing pedestrian

A Medford man who was walking home from a bar to avoid driving drunk was himself killed by an intoxicated driver.

The driver, Matthew Donald Harris, 36, of Medford, was sentenced Thursday to 1½ years in prison after entering no contest pleas to charges of criminally negligent homicide and driving under the influence of intoxicants. He also was banned from driving for life.

Harris, who plans to appeal, conceded in Jackson County Circuit Court that if the case had gone to trial, prosecutors could have proven he was driving under the influence of intoxicants and caused the death of Sterling Ford Cavanaugh, who was 43 when he was struck and killed Sept. 19, 2015.

Harris received a relatively light sentence after his defense team was able to get part of the evidence in the case suppressed, court documents show.

In addition, the victim was in the roadway wearing dark clothing at about 1 a.m. when Harris hit him, raising the question of whether a sober driver could have avoided the collision. The section of road lacks street lighting, said Jackson County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Markiewicz.

Cavanaugh was killed near the intersection of Table Rock Road and Orr Drive on the outskirts of Central Point, according to an affidavit.

The Jackson County Serious Traffic Accident Reconstruction Team determined Cavanaugh was walking along the fog line about one foot into the vehicle travel lane.

The defense team's crash reconstructionist estimated he was about two feet into the travel lane. The reconstructionist also conducted tests to demonstrate a sober person driving the speed limit could not have seen him in time to avoid a collision.

Evidence indicated Harris was not speeding at the time of the collision, according to the DA's Office.

Earlier in the evening, Cavanaugh was at the Whiskey River Cafe & Lounge, where staff members cut him off from drinking because of his level of intoxication, according to the DA's Office.

Harris also had been to the bar to pick up his girlfriend and admitted to drinking beer, then driving. He said he saw Cavanaugh in the middle of the road and didn't brake before striking him, according to an affidavit by a Jackson County Sheriff's Office deputy who responded to the collision.

Many of Harris' statements were later ruled to be inadmissible, but his Breathalyzer test result of 0.14 percent blood alcohol was admissible, according to the DA's Office. The legal limit in Oregon is below 0.08 percent.

Cavanaugh's daughters said he was walking home, rather than driving, because he didn't want to take someone else's life. His sister, Kate Francis, said while people will say Harris' 18-month sentence is too light, her brother is now nothing but cremated ashes in the ground — regardless of whether Harris spends 18 days, 18 months or 18 years in prison.

She urged Harris to visit high schools and other places upon his release and warn others about the lethal consequences of drinking and driving.

Cavanaugh's mother, Pamela Cavanaugh, said the 18-month sentence was a pittance for taking a life. She said her son was vibrant, fun and caring.

"To this day, I cannot imagine he is gone forever," she said.

She urged anyone who drinks to call a taxi rather than driving or walking home.

Family members thanked investigators, prosecutors and emergency responders for their work on the case.

A truck driver, Cavanaugh kept in touch with friends and family members while on the road with his lip-syncing videos and photos of "world's largest" oddities from the states he traveled through. He was a karaoke enthusiast, and two of his favorite selections were "Rainbow Connection," done in a Kermit the Frog voice, and "It's a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong, according to family members.

— Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Matthew Donald Harris