Williston man sentenced to 24 years for multiple vehicular homicide counts
WILLISTON, N.D. (KUMV) - A Williston man changed his plea to guilty of driving drunk and killing two east of Williston earlier this month. On Tuesday, he returned to court for sentencing.
Last year, North Dakota Highway Patrol troopers said 52-year-old Mark Bearce drove on the wrong side of Highway 2, resulting in the deaths of 44-year-old Stephanie Lee and a seven-year-old passenger. This was not the first time Bearce drove drunk according to Assistant Attorney General Britta Demello Rice, who showed the court cell phone footage of Bearce driving with a beer can in his hand.
“It’s shocking and it’s frustrating. He’s driving in the middle of the day drinking a beer. Driving, recording, all sorts of distracted driving. I think that shows that this criminal conduct is likely to recur,” said Rice.
Guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide, Rice asked for a total of 35 years. Bearce’s attorney Jeff Nehring, requested a concurrent 10-year sentence. He argued that Bearce’s recent diabetes diagnosis and the alcohol caused him to be disoriented the night of the crash. Bearce spoke to the court, saying he would never drink again.
“I would just like to apologize to the Lee family for their loss and pain. I think it is long overdue,” said Bearce.
After hearing from both sides, along with reading four victim impact statements and 31 character letters, District Court Judge Benjamin Johnson sentenced Bearce to 24 years, saying that diabetes does not excuse Bearce’s actions.
“There is just no level in which that behavior is acceptable. It’s not safe. It’s not safe for Mr. Bearce, it’s not safe for anybody else,” said Johnson.
Bearce will also need to pay additional restitution to the family.
Four additional charges of reckless endangerment were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
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