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Vet sentenced to four years for DUII death

GRANTS PASS — Before Steven Schurpf Jr. was handcuffed in court Friday, he removed his dead girlfriend's U.S. Army dog tag from around his neck and handed it to her grieving friend.

"I've worn it every day," the 30-year-old Grants Pass man told Mary Grace Townsend, who is his friend, too.

He then was led away by a deputy, on his way to serving a nearly four-year prison sentence for DUII and criminally negligent homicide. He had been at the wheel of a car that crashed near Merlin on June 15, killing his girlfriend, 27-year-old Tamera R. Dillard.

Years ago, Schurpf and Dillard attended Hidden Valley High School, before they entered the U.S. Army, according to Townsend. About three years ago, they started dating on and off, she said.

But the Army stint had left Schurpf with post-traumatic stress disorder, his attorney, Justin Rosas, said in court. And by last June, the couple were having troubles.

"They were dealing with a lot of life's stressors at the time," Rosas said, adding that was "absolutely no reason" to get behind the wheel drunk.

Schurpf's alcohol level that night was .15 percent or higher, according to Josephine County deputy prosecutor Lisa Turner. That amount is nearly twice the legal limit to drive.

On the night of the crash, the couple left Romars Sports Bar & Grill in Merlin, Turner said, and they headed south on Azalea Drive, toward Grants Pass. They were traveling an estimated 65-70 mph at the time of the crash, she said.

It was about 12:20 a.m. when their 2006 Toyota RAV4 veered right on a left-hand curve near Ewe Creek Road. Dillard was thrown from the car, while Schurpf had to be extricated from the wreckage by rescue crews. He went to the hospital and then jail. He had no injuries.

Eleven days later, a celebration of life was held for Dillard. Townsend helped plan the event.

"It devastated everyone," Townsend told Circuit Judge Pat Wolke, speaking through tears. "It's so hard to cope with. I feel like I lost my sister. My brother, too."

Schurpf, who had been free on bail, wore a suit and tie to court. He sniffed and put a tissue to his eyes as Townsend spoke, and then stood and spoke himself.

"I'm so sorry," he said. "I pray every morning. I pray every night."

Schurpf told Pat Wolke he had a 2-year-old son (apparently with another woman), and that every day was a struggle.

"I just don't know what else to say," he concluded. "I am so sorry."

Wolke urged him to follow-up with military health care providers to help him deal with PTSD, once he finishes his sentence.

"It's not unusual somebody with PTSD would use alcohol," Wolke said.

Rosas asked that his client be given until the end of the day to report to the jail, but Wolke ordered he be taken into custody immediately.

Schurpf then handed Rosas some personal belongings and handed Dillard's dog tag to Townsend.

Outside the courtroom, Townsend remembered Dillard as "very vibrant and caring," and said that Dillard was a cancer survivor.

Townsend said she thinks about her friend every day, and that her own four children, ages 4 to 9, don't understand what has happened to the woman they knew as Auntie Tamera.

"They cry for Auntie Tamera," she said. "They want their Auntie Tamera. She was a big part of their life."