A Payson man was sentenced to seven years in prison Tuesday afternoon for seriously injuring an off-duty Department of Public Safety officer by striking him with his car and fleeing the scene while driving under the influence in August 2005.
Reed Hatch, 23, was given the lightest sentence possible by Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill. He was sentenced to five years for aggravated assault and another two years for fleeing the scene of an injury accident. Hatch was given credit for the 356 days he has served in jail on both convictions.
The maximum sentence Hatch could have received was 18.5 years in prison.
The accident, which left DPS Officer Charlie Hopkins with a plate in his left leg and scars on his back, occurred the night of Aug. 18, 2005. Hopkins was reportedly on foot, walking across the parking lot of the Mazatzal Casino to his motel room, when Hatch hit him with his vehicle and left the scene. Hopkins was discovered, badly injured and unconscious in a ditch.
Hatch was found about 30 minutes later and arrested for aggravated assault and leaving the scene of an injury accident.
Hatch pled guilty to five charges: Two counts of aggravated assault, failure to remain at the scene of an accident involving a fatality or serious injury, DUI-impairment and DUI with blood-alcohol content above .08. The pre-sentence report recommended seven-and-a-half years in prison and five years probation.
Hatch showed remorse for his actions. "I feel horrible for what I have done," he said.
Hatch said he spoke to Hopkins Tuesday morning and was asked "Why?", a question, he said, he has asked himself every day. "I will regret this for the rest of my life."
Cahill said the factors in Hatch's favor were his young age, no criminal record, his good reputation and his remorse.
In a packed courtroom with numerous DPS officers in attendance, DPS Chief Jack Lane said he visited the ditch where Hopkins ended up after being hit. He said what needed to be taken into account was the lack of care in leaving Hopkins in the ditch with no regard.
The injured Hopkins may never be able to pursue his dream of being an officer, though he is now working on light duty inside for the department, Lane said.
Sgt. Terry Lincoln said she first saw Hopkins when he was a cadet at the academy. She said his first essay he turned in to her was returned to him filled with red marks. He quickly learned what to do on future work and never had to be reminded twice.
"When he graduated, I was proud to call him Officer Hopkins," she said.
When told of the accident, she was devastated, she said.
Hopkins' wife, Serena, said she remembers the call about the accident that almost killed her husband as if it was yesterday.
She said her heart almost stopped when she heard the news. She asked if he was alive.
The answer was sobering when she was told, "For right now, yes."
Her husband's condition kept her from spending much time with her mother, who was dying from cancer.
She said, through tears, that she attended her mother's funeral alone. She added that it was surprising Hatch would get behind the wheel while being so greatly impaired, and because of that choice, her husband's dream of wearing a badge may never be realized.
Charlie Hopkins said the last thing he remembered before waking up in the hospital was a headlight and tires approaching him from behind as he walked on a sidewalk.
"It is rather funny that in a few seconds in life can change everything," he said.
When released from the hospital, Hopkins said, he had to learn to walk and read all over again.
He said if his doctors give him the clearance, he would be willing to go back to the academy to prove his worth as a police officer.
"To this day, I still don't know if I will be able to put that badge on," he said.
Gila County Attorney Patti Wortman said Hopkins was as close to death as one can be without dying.
She cited the physical and financial hardship of her client and the nature of the crime. Hatch, she said, was warned not to get behind the wheel that night by two different police agencies and there was a shuttle available to take him home from the casino.
"He still made that decision," she said. "He fled the scene and did nothing to render aid."
Cahill said he considered leaving the scene of an injury accident a serious offense that should result in incarceration.
Several people came to the sentencing to show their support for Hatch, and more than 10 residents spoke to the court.
James Quinlan, a teacher, said he had known Hatch since he was a little boy. He remembered Hatch as a tremendous swimmer and lifeguard. He mentioned that Hatch was in his Advanced Placement English class.
"It's a shock to all of us who know Reed," he said. "If Reed was Reed that day, he would have stopped and offered aid because he was trained to do so. Reed knows what he did was wrong."
Anna Ortiz, Hatch's attorney, said the reason her client was being treated so harshly was because he had struck a DPS officer, and added that should have no effect since Hatch had no idea of Hopkins' profession.
Cahill said the crime of leaving a person to die on a highway was particularly gruesome, but added Hatch was not the typical career criminal.
Cahill said he had received numerous letters of support from former teachers of Hatch.
Hatch was also sentenced to six months in jail each for DUI and DUI with a blood-alcohol content over .08 with community service.
See related story:
Trial set for DPS hit-and-run (May 23)