Libby man sentenced to six years in prison for July 2016 death of woman

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Patrick Michael Wood was sentenced Sept. 5, 2016. (Paul Sievers/The Western News)

Patrick Wood of Libby was sentenced Tuesday in Lincoln County 19th Judicial Court after pleading guilty earlier to negligent homicide, a felony, in the death of Christina Benefield on July 12, 2016.

Wood and Benefield were in a rollover accident on Highway 37 just south of the Libby Dam. Wood drifted off the right side of the road and struck the guardrail, causing the vehicle’s rear end to slide sideways. The vehicle then struck a tree, which caused the vehicle to roll into another tree before coming to rest on its wheels.

Wood was not arrested until March 30, 2017, and charged with one count of vehicular homicide while under the influence, or in the alternative negligent homicide, both felonies. A blood sample obtained by law enforcement showed that Wood had ethanol, THC and methamphetamine in his system. Data retrieved from the airbag control module indicated that just prior to the crash, the car was coasting down a slight hill at 75 miles per hour and the driver was not applying direct pressure on the accelerator.

Adult Probation and Parole prepared the pre-sentence investigation report in accordance with the plea agreement. Both recommended a sentence of 20 years with 14 years suspended. Lincoln County Deputy County Attorney Jeff Zwang and Sean Hinchey, Wood’s attorney, both agreed with the recommendations.

During the sentencing hearing, Wood made a brief statement to Benefield’s family and friends. He spoke softly and expressed how sorry he was to everyone involved for the pain he caused. He said he knows that it is up to him to change his journey and he will have time to do that.

District Court Judge Matt Cuffe sentenced Wood to 20 years with 14 years suspended for negligent homicide. He made it clear Wood would not be paroled until he understood the severity of his actions, finished chemical dependency treatment and was able to follow that treatment plan.

Cuffe also reminded Wood that his behavior in the Lincoln County jail has not been exemplary. According to jail logs, Wood frequently has been unable to control his emotions. Cuffe said that until he has proven he can control his emotions there would be no parole.

Wood was also sentenced to pay restitution to victims from an incident while being incarcerated in the Lincoln County Jail.

Wood will be transferred to the Department of Corrections in Deer Lodge to begin his incarceration there.

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