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Henderson man gets 7-20 years for DUI in runner’s death

Updated Monday, May 10, 2010 | 1:08 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

Joshua Salayich

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Jeremy Kunz and his wife, Melinda, at the Ragnar Relay Las Vegas starting line.

A Henderson man will spend between seven and 20 years behind bars for an October drunken driving crash that killed a Utah relay race runner.

A tearful Joshua Vincent Salayich, 26, was sentenced Monday in district court after pleading guilty in January to one count of driving under the influence resulting in death for the collision Oct. 10 near Horizon Ridge Parkway and Stephanie Street in Henderson. The crash killed 33-year-old relay runner Jeremy Kunz of Kamas, Utah.

Salayich apologized to the court, to his family and to Kunz’s family before District Court Judge David Barker sentenced him in a courtroom packed with crying family members.

“I just can’t even start to explain, to put into words how sorry I am and how bad I feel. It makes me sick every single day to think that I have done this to somebody’s family,” Salayich told the judge.

He asked for leniency and told the judge he wanted to do whatever he could to advocate against drunken driving, including speaking at schools and to community groups.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about what I’ve done,” he said.

Prosecutor Eric Bauman told the court that at the time of the crash, Salayich had a blood-alcohol level of 0.26 -- more than three times the legal limit of .08.

“He had no business being anywhere in the vicinity of a vehicle, much less driving one,” Bauman told the judge. “As a result of his selfish, his stupid, his reckless behavior, he’s taken a young life.”

Kunz was one of about 2,400 people taking part in the 180-mile Ragnar Relay run from Valley of Fire State Park to Red Rock Resort.

Salayich was arrested after police said he lost control of his 2005 Nissan Altima at about 4:30 a.m., striking Kunz. Another runner told police he jumped out of the way of the speeding car, which struck Kunz before rolling over in a desert area near the road. Salayich got out of the car, which landed on its wheels, and walked away, the witness told police.

Salayich’s attorney, Michael Van, asked for as lenient a sentence as possible, saying his client had accepted full responsibility.

Kunz’s family members said they forgave Salayich but asked the judge for a stiff sentence that would deter others from drinking and driving.

“Has a little alcohol affected my family’s life? More than words can express. My three children have lost their loving father and I have lost the love of my life,” Kunz’s wife, Melinda, told the judge. “I want Mr. Salayich and this court to understand that I want the consequences of his actions to be fully applied to him. His actions and their consequences have been fully applied to me.”

She also described the financial hardship of losing her family’s breadwinner. Two of her children have health issues that have made it difficult for them to find affordable insurance, she said.

“This crime has affected our lives in more ways than I can express to this court,” she said.

Kunz’s mother, Denise Kunz, said her son had been well-loved in his community and was active in the Mormon church. An avid hiker and backpacker, Kunz was a scout leader who loved photography. He also loved helping others, she said.

“He always had time for other people. The impact of this crime on the Kamas Valley cannot be calculated,” she said.

Kunz’s father, Bart Kunz, criticized Salayich for running from the scene instead of stopping to render aid.

“I do not want anyone else to suffer as I have suffered. I do not want people to lose a son, or a husband, or a father, or a friend because of the drunk driving of someone else,” Bart Kunz told the judge. “I would encourage you to help send this message – that this is unacceptable, that drinking and driving must not happen.”

In handing down his sentence, which was more than the six years recommended by the parole and probation department, Barker told Salayich that his actions after the collision – which included encouraging witnesses not to call the police, resisting officers, denying being behind the wheel and having a bag of marijuana in his possession – factored into his sentencing decision.

He said an important mitigating factor was that Salayich took responsibility for his actions.

“There are no winners in this situation,” Barker said, “But there must be accountability.”

A charge of leaving the scene of an accident was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

In addition to the prison time, Salayich was fined $5,000 and ordered to pay more than $13,000 in restitution for funeral expenses. Until being remanded Monday, he had been out of custody since posting $125,000 bail.

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