Robert Gene Mayfield was sentenced to 13 months in prison and 36 months probation in Linn County Circuit Court on Friday afternoon after pleading guilty to criminally negligent homicide and fourth-degree assault charges.
Prosecutor Richard Wilers had offered the sentence, which was less than the state norm of up to 18 months. The emotionally charged hearing took two hours.
“I have not looked forward to this day,” Judge Thomas McHill said, referring to the emotionally charged case, which began on the morning of Jan. 21, 2016, near Sweet Home, when Mayfield, a Sweet Home truck driver, caused a fatal crash outside Lebanon that killed 39-year-old Neil Allen Nightingale, also of Sweet Home.
Mayfield, who will lose his driver’s license permanently, was ordered to pay $3,011 restitution to Nightingale’s parents and a $200 fine. A 30-day sentence on the assault charge will be served concurrently.
In 2016, Mayfield, then 54, was driving a Pape Machinery utility truck westbound on Highway 20 near the Bauman Mill. Forensic evidence showed he had been looking at his cell phone before and at the time the incident occurred.
During depositions, Mayfield said he “looked up and I’m like, 'Whoa!'” when he saw a truck pulling in front of him, headed for the mill.
Mayfield swerved the truck to the left, struck a vehicle driven by David Briggs of Lebanon, and then slammed into the 2011 Kenworth log truck driven by Nightingale.
Nightingale died eight days later.
“I take full responsibility for my role in this accident,” Mayfield said, addressing a packed courtroom.
Mayfield said he accepted whatever sentence McHill handed down as "God’s will." He repeatedly apologized to the Nightingale family, noting that his attorneys had kept him from doing so before.
“I am a broken man with a broken heart and spirit,” he said.
He added that it was apparent that Nightingale was “an incredible son, husband, uncle and father.”
“I wish I could have known him,” Mayfield said. “I pray every day for all of you. I am so sorry for all of the pain I have caused you.”
Mayfield said he does not remember the crash, only that someone had turned a truck in front of his. Then he heard a woman’s voice telling him he was going to be all right although he was severely injured, and that he was hung up on the truck's door jam while being extricated by medics.
Nightingale’s father, Gary Nightingale, said his family’s world has been forever changed. He said he's grieved so much that he quit driving a log truck five years earlier than planned because the joy had gone out of it. The same, he added, was true for hunting, fishing and camping.
“Neil was a part of all of it,” he said. “I will have to grow old without him. I miss him every day.”
Through a victim’s advocate, Nightingale’s mother, Annette, said she misses seeing her son every day and that he had “humor, wit, strong character and was devoted and loving.”
She said Nightingale’s son, Ryder, who was 6 when his father was killed, “adored his father.”
Through her aunt Wendy Younger, Nightingale’s stepdaughter Alyssa Orr said she felt “pure heartache” and that it was sad to watch her younger brother grow up without a father.
Orr said that although Nightingale was her stepfather, he had been a true father in every way to her, from guiding her through her teen years to changing oil in her car.
Nightingale’s widow, Tami, said her family’s lives have been “turned upside down.”
“Neil was hardworking, honest, kind, loving, a family man who was quiet unless you knew him,” she said. “He loved driving truck, being outdoors and music.”
Character witnesses for Mayfield said he always put the needs of others ahead of his own, and that he was known for teaching others how to fish and do mechanical work as well as helping members of his church and community.
Pastor Tom Sanderbrink of the Lebanon Calvary Chapel said Mayfield “has a heart for those who are broken and now he is a broken man — physically and emotionally.”
Mayfield’s attorney, Laura Fine, asked McHill to consider probation rather than incarceration because Mayfield remains in need of physical rehabilitation from his injuries and takes medication. She suggested that McHill could impose numerous conditions within probation, including reporting to jail on weekends, or a daily curfew.
She called the incident “a horrible tragedy.”
After the sentence was imposed, Mayfield told the courtroom, “This is God’s plan for my life. God is in control. Your prayers have been answered. I will walk in his will. I’m going to be OK.”
He and Tami Nightingale spoke briefly and hugged each other.
Mayfield had originally faced charges of first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, third-degree assault and fourth-degree assault. Had he been convicted of those mandatory minimum Measure 11 crimes, the sentence could have been much longer.