FORT PIERCE — In emotional testimony Monday, the father of Tanner Dashner said his son knew right from wrong and called what happened “a terrible mistake.”
“I pray that the families involved will be able to forgive Tanner and me for something that was unforeseen,” Dashner’s father, Bradley Dashner said. “He does not have an angry bone in his body.”
The elder Dashner spoke in Senior Circuit Judge Robert Makemson’s courtroom in the St. Lucie County courthouse as part of sentencing proceedings for his son, who’s been adjudicated guilty and jailed on a host of charges in connection with a 2018 fiery crash that left five dead.
Florida Highway Patrol investigators have reported Tanner Dashner, now 24, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.274 percent, more than triple the legal limit of 0.08.
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“I can't even call it an accident. It's not an accident. It's a tragedy,” Bradley Dashner said in the crowded courtroom. “We always prided ourselves on having Tanner be accountable for his actions.”
Tanner Dashner, then 21, was driving Nov. 23, 2018, an estimated 97 mph in a 30 mph zone south on South 25th Street when his sport utility vehicle slammed into the back of a 2002 Dodge Dakota at Midway Road.
The Dodge, driven by Kedan Tillett, 27, of Fort Pierce, and a 2003 BMW in front of it had been stopped at the red light at Midway Road.
Dashner didn’t slow down as the Dodge and BMW began to accelerate from a stop after the red light turned green.
Dashner's GMC hit the Dodge, which then crashed into the BMW. The GMC struck the Dodge a second time. The Dodge's gas tank "was compromised and ignited into a fire," a report states.
Tillett, and four passengers — Alexis Chaney, 17; Anthony Victor, 21; Anthony Martin, 16, all of Fort Pierce; and Darien Douglas, 21, of Port St. Lucie — all died as the pickup caught fire. A sixth person in the Dodge, then 14-year-old Ari'yonnia Stanberry, of Stuart, was pulled out of the truck by a bystander.
Dashner's charges included five counts each of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide, though defense attorney Ashley Minton Monday argued against the five vehicular homicide counts.
Over objections from Assistant State Attorney Brandon White, Makemson agreed and the five vehicular homicide charges were struck.
Minton read several letters from associates and relatives of Tanner Dashner, including from his mother, praising his character and personality.
Under questioning from White, Bradley Dashner said his son wasn’t beaten or molested as a child and had advantages because he and his wife provided for him. He was an accomplished saxophone player with friends, and had no disciplinary issues at school. Bradley Dashner said his son was raised to be a law abiding citizen.
“He's not some drooling imbecile who doesn't know what's happening, right?” White asked.
“No,” Bradley Dashner replied.
“He knows right from wrong?” White asked.
“Yes,” Bradley Dashner replied.
In Dashner’s vehicle, investigators found a bottle of rum that was about a quarter full, and an empty bottle of whiskey.
Investigators learned that before the crash Dashner entered On the Edge Bar & Grill. Dashner was accompanied by two others and they sat at a table, records show. Not long after that, two others joined them.
Defense witness Dr. Joseph Wu, speaking via video conference from California, reported reviewing scans and finding potential evidence of traumatic brain injury and Asperger's syndrome in Tanner Dashner.
White spent considerable time attacking aspects of Wu’s testimony, and noted that 100 percent of his testimony in the past has been for the defense.
In response to questions from White, Wu said he didn’t speak with Tanner Dashner or his mother or father or friends or review earlier medical records regarding Dashner’s reported earlier injuries.
Wu, under questioning from Minton, said he was retained for a limited purpose.
Sheila Rapa, a psychologist testifying for the defense, said she saw Tanner Dashner one time at the jail in 2020 and estimated it was for about three hours.
She diagnosed him with cannabis use disorder, alcohol use disorder and “major depressive disorder single episode.”
Rapa said he smoked during the week and engaged in “binge drinking” on the weekends.
Under questioning from White, Rapa said she was hired to look for any kind of mitigation. She found no signs of intellectual delay and didn't diagnose him with Asperger's syndrome.
Will Greenlee is a breaking news reporter for TCPalm. Follow Will on Twitter @OffTheBeatTweet or reach him by phone at 772-267-7926. E-mail him at email@example.com
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This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Tanner Dashner sentencing in crash that killed 5 continues Monday