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Man gets 3-7 years for Riverton manís death

Man gets three to seven years for Riverton man's death

May 3, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Before hearing his sentence for killing a bicyclist during an intoxicated collision in Riverton last August, Michael William Sniffin of Lander stood up next to his two defense attorneys and turned to address the victim's grieving family members.

"If I could do this all over again, it wouldn't have ever happened," Sniffin, 30, told Todd Richard Scofield's several family members seated in Lander's 9th District Court on Thursday. "I'm extremely sorry I caused the death of a man with a family. I feel horrible about it. I'm sorry."

He gave his apology near the conclusion of the emotional, hour-long hearing that ended with District Judge Norman E. Young sentencing him to between three and seven years in prison for causing Scofield's death Aug. 16.

Maximum under deal

Throughout the proceeding, crying and sobbing by some in the courtroom accompanied the statements made by attorneys and family members concerning Sniffin's sentence and the tragedy suffered by loved ones on both sides in the case.

Sniffin's sentence reflected the maximum he could receive under an agreement that led to his no-contest plea he entered Feb. 17 to felony driving under the influence causing serious bodily injury.

The deal led to dismissing charges of aggravated vehicular homicide, manslaughter and use of a controlled substance.

The Fremont County Attorney's Office in charges filed against Sniffin in August accused him of causing the death of Scofield, 50, of Riverton. Scofield died on his birthday while cycling on the 1100 block of South Federal Boulevard when Sniffin crashed into him at about 8:26 p.m.

Driving a 2001 Chevy Suburban northbound, Sniffin passed a car in the inside lane and returned to the outside lane when he hit and killed the cyclist riding along the roadside.

Previous criminal cases

Prosecutors alleged Sniffin was under the influence of marijuana at the time.

Deputy county attorney Kathy Kavanagh, while delivering her recommendation to the judge for the maximum potential sentence, noted Sniffin's lengthy history with alcohol and drugs.

By reviewing his criminal history, "Michael Sniffin was a train wreck waiting to happen and it happened that day," she said.

She noted criminal cases involving Sniffin in July 2001, December 2001, January 2005, another in 2008, one in 2009 and again in 2011. In one situation police used pepper spray on him after he admitted to being intoxicated on alcohol and marijuana at his parents' home, she said.

Another case when he was on probation involved allegations of public intoxication and disturbing the peace, telling police he took a prescription drug called "benzo," Kavanagh said.

Marijuana, painkillers

At the time of his arrest last August, Sniffin told police he had smoked four joints and admitted to using prescription painkillers Tramadol and hydrocodone, she said. Additionally, police found in his car "multiple syringes, spoons and cotton balls and what appeared to be trace methamphetamine," she said.

Kavanagh noted that Scofield was intoxicated while cycling "but he was on the side of the road" within the fog line. Instead of distancing himself from the cyclist, Sniffin drove toward him, and "because of that choice he ended up hitting that victim and killing him," she said.

"A father of six is dead today and, really, what do you tell these children? It shouldn't have happened," Kavanagh said.

Stopped earlier in day

Four hours before the crash Lander police stopped Sniffin after receiving a report of a possible intoxicated driver, but officers let him go, Kavanagh said.

"The only sentence I can ask for, Judge, in this case is prison time," she said. "He was on misdemeanor probation when he killed somebody. I don't see how the court can reach any other conclusion."

Family statements

Three of Scofield's family members, in tear-filled statements to the court, described Scofield as a generous man who loved the outdoors and would call his sister in Wisconsin to order a cheese-curd pizza.

"I have a hard time believing it, because my brother was so good to everyone," his sister, Jody McLaughlin, said.

Sniffin "took a life, a life of love both given and taken. ... He took it, smashed it for a high. Come on," McLaughlin said, noting the feelings of hurt by both families in the case.

"Believe it or not, I kind of feel for them, but I feel more for my brother who I now carry in a little sack, and I shouldn't have to do that."

Scofield's daughter, Michelle, said she tried to talk to her dad on his birthday but was unable to reach him.

"I won't ever get to hear his voice any more," she said.

"I hate hurting," she said, her crying causing her to pause for several seconds. "All I have is pictures and memories. It's hard for me. My dad was my hero. Like most kids, their hero is Superman or Spiderman. My dad was my hero. I loved him very much."

Sniffin's father addressed the court to express sorrow for the victim's family and the potential his son has in life.

"He's a tremendous chef. He's a tremendous writer," Bill Sniffin said. "He's a loving young man."

Casper attorney Timothy Cotton disagreed with the severity of his client's criminal past, noting a lack of any drunken driving charges. Concerning prescription drugs, there was also "no evidence in the blood test that was in his system," he said.

He said Scofield had a .20 blood-alcohol content, more than twice the state's legal limit for driving, and "witnesses had his bike wobbling" on the road before the crash.

Sniffin has been to substance abuse treatment four times and he will continue upon his release from prison, Cotton said.

"It's a lifelong struggle, and Michael is well aware he has a lifelong struggle ahead of him," he said.

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