Five years ago David Black made a big mistake. He got into an illegal nighttime drag race against two other cars on O.B. Riley Road.
Danielle Gates, the driver of one of the other cars, lost control of her car on a curve and slammed into the side of an oncoming van. Gates and the passenger in her car were killed, and the young woman driving the van was seriously injured.
A year later, David Black made his really big mistake. Convinced he was not guilty of the charge of second-degree manslaughter that Deschutes County District Attorney Mike Dugan had brought against him, he decided to go to trial instead of cutting a deal.
Black was convicted and sentenced to six years and three months in prison. Judge Stephen Tiktin, in pronouncing the sentence, said he wished it didn't have to be so harsh but he had no choice: Under Measure 11, his hands were tied.
Randy Clifford, the driver of the third car in the race, played it smart. He copped a plea to charges of criminally negligent homicide and fourth-degree assault. His sentence? Six months in prison and three years on probation.
Clifford has served his time and is a free man now. Black is still behind bars. Last week the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld his sentence without comment.
It's instructive - and disgusting - to compare what happened to David Black with another notorious Deschutes County criminal case.
About a year ago, Eric Allen Brown's Mercedes hit Kimberly Ann Potter as she was bicycling along Third Street. The car hit Potter so hard her body was dismembered. Brown didn't stop to try to help. He didn't call 911. Instead he tried to burn the Mercedes, then fled to California.
Brown eventually gave himself up, agreed to testify against others involved in the fatal hit-and-run and pleaded guilty to several charges. Instead of a long prison term, he only was sentenced to undergo drug rehab.
Mike Dugan said at the time of Black's sentencing that illegal drag racing is a serious problem and must be discouraged. We can't argue with that. But we have to wonder whether it was the real reason Dugan threw the book at Black.
DAs don't like it when defendants want a trial. Criminal trials take up a lot of staff time and cost a lot of money. So DAs routinely bring the heaviest possible charges against defendants in the hope they'll be intimidated into making a deal. And if they won't, God help them.
David Black wasn't punished for drag racing. He was punished for not playing ball with the DA's office. And he was punished by a boneheaded law that forces judges to treat all offenders the same, regardless of the individual circumstances.
We've given Mike Dugan and Measure 11 THE BOOT before because of this case. We're giving it to them again now, and we will keep on giving it to them as long as this shameful travesty of justice continues.