NEWPORT — A Newport man pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide, one of two felony charges that hung a jury last fall.
On Sept. 7, 2019, Michael Craycraft was driving eastbound on Highway 20 with passenger Rhawnie Harp when his Jeep left the road near milepost 2 just outside of Newport, struck the south embankment, ejected Harp and came to a rest on all four tires. Harp, 40, of Waldport, was transported to Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital, where she was declared deceased.
Craycraft told a Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office deputy on the scene that he’d lost control of the vehicle when shifting from second to third gear. The deputy said he observed signs of intoxication, and a blood sample taken at the hospital when Craycraft was treated for injuries showed a blood-alcohol content of 0.128 percent.
The Lincoln County District Attorney’s Office charged Craycraft with second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in Harp’s death. Claycraft was also charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants and reckless driving, as well as five counts of recklessly endangering people in nearby vehicles on the road at the time of the crash.
During a two-week trial in October 2020, defense attorney Jason Thompson’s case hinged on a mechanical failure in the Jeep’s manual transmission, arguing that the failure, rather than his client’s intoxication, led to the crash. A police report cited an inspector who said it was indeterminable whether that failure occurred before or after the crash, and Thompson called expert witnesses who testified that it had to have occurred prior.
After more than three days of deliberations, jurors were unable to reach a verdict on either felony charge — seven voted not guilty on the count of second-degree manslaughter, and four voted to acquit of criminally negligent homicide.
The jury also could not reach a verdict on the charge of reckless driving, with seven voting not guilty, and it acquitted Craycraft of all five counts of recklessly endangering another person. It found him guilty of driving under the influence.
Judge Sheryl Bachart declared a mistrial on the manslaughter, negligent homicide and reckless driving charges. The district attorney’s office elected to retry the case, and a new trial was scheduled to begin June 1.
On May 25, Craycraft pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in exchange for the dismissal of counts one and two, and on June 2, Bachart sentenced him to 60 months’ supervised probation. Craycraft, who operates a trucking business, will have his Oregon driver’s license permanently revoked after a one-year suspension for driving under the influence, for which Bachart also sentenced him to six months in jail.