EPHRATA — Audrey Grubb's smile pointed toward a pure soul. The little girl could have been any number of things, but family members say she had her sights set on becoming a pediatrician so she could help other children.
“At 8-years-old she loved spending her time reading anatomy books to prepare for her future profession. She also loved helping her grandmother pack shoe boxes full of gifts to be sent to children around the world for Operation Christmas Child,” reads a letter from Audrey's mother, Rachael Grubb, that was read during a court hearing on Friday.
Audrey never got to realize that dream. Her life was cut short at the age of 8 over two years ago. The man responsible for her death, Neil McLeod, 38, of Ephrata, previously pleaded guilty in Grant County Superior Court to vehicular homicide and two counts of vehicular assault. McLeod was in court on Friday for a sentencing hearing, during which Judge David Estudillo sentenced him to a total of 330 months, 27.5 months, behind prison bars.
“What you have suffered is unimaginable. Nothing I can say or do here today will ever be able to comfort you or bring you the solace that you deserve at this point in time. It's just impossible,” Estudillo told Audrey's family members. “But it just shows with all of you being here that Audrey was definitely someone who was loved, who had a caring family.”
Audrey Grubb lost her life July 20, 2016 after the Ephrata Police Department received a report of a vehicle theft on Nob Hill Drive. Police were told McLeod was a possible suspect and when they arrived in the area he drove by in a Dodge Durango. McLeod started heading south on D Street Northeast, with EPD officers following, and he failed to stop at the Division Avenue East stop sign and collided with a truck driven by Audrey's father, Justin Grubb.
The Durango rolled and came to a rest against a power pole. The truck crashed into the side of a garage, but Audrey was riding in the bed of the vehicle and was thrown out of the truck when it was struck by the Durango. The girl later died at Columbia Basin Hospital in Ephrata from massive head trauma. Justin Grubb received internal injuries, while his female passenger, Elizabeth Grubb, his girlfriend at the time and now wife, was extricated and treated for two broken legs, a broken pelvis and a lacerated spleen.
Elizabeth was in the hospital for months on end. She underwent 12 surgeries on her legs and pelvis. Even today she experiences pain doing simple everyday tasks like standing or walking. The pain Elizabeth has went through pales in comparison to the impact Audrey's death had and will have on the rest of her life.
“Every minute of every day I think about my step-daughter Audrey. I loved her so much. She was beautiful. My physical body will never be the same. All this pain and suffering from something that could have been prevented from happening,” reads Elizabeth's victim impact statement.
Justin Grubb said before his daughter's death they were planning out her ninth birthday and she was at the top of her class in school.
“She was an amazing person and had a good heart and great attitude towards life,” he said
McLeod admitted to using methamphetamine earlier in the day before the crash. A number of Audrey's family member made assertions in their victim impact statements on Friday that the meth use played a factor in the accident. McLeod's attorney, N. Smith Hagopian, took issue with that assertion, stating the meth use was earlier in the morning on July 20 and did not impair his client's judgment at the time of the collision. Hagopian also stated his client has been remorseful throughout court proceedings and he suffers from a myriad of different mental health issues. On Friday he asserted that McLeod was upset with his ex-wife on the day of the incident.
McLeod himself reiterated his remorse to Audrey's family near the end of his sentencing hearing on Friday.
“It's too small to say but I am sorry. I didn't want this to happen,” he stated.
Investigators with the Grant County Sheriff's Office concluded McLeod, was driving “well above” the speed limit when the collision with Grubb's truck occurred. A 90-foot-long skid mark at the scene is believed to have been caused by the Durango's tires and investigators believe McLeod attempted to use his breaks, which cause the Durango's tires to lock.
Richard Byrd can be reached via email at email@example.com.