A Mulino teen has been ruled responsible in a November 2021 crash on South Mulino Road, which claimed the life of 16-year-old Canby resident Matthew Dewar, after four days of trial in Clackamas County juvenile court.
Ryan Anthony Kellar, 18, was found responsible by Clackamas County Judge Colleen F. Gilmartin (the juvenile department does not use the terms “guilty” or “not guilty”) on charges of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving.
Kellar turned 18 last July, but was a minor on November 19, 2021, when he attempted to pass another vehicle on Mulino Road near South Blundell Road and struck Dewar’s Volkswagen sedan head-on in a no-passing zone.
Dewar died at the scene, while his brothers, 12 and 10 at the time, sustained minor injuries. Kellar, whose vehicle flipped onto its side following the collision, fractured several vertebrae and sustained other injuries.
The collision occurred just before 7:30 a.m. Dewar and two of his younger brothers were on their way to Country Christian School in Molalla. Kellar was headed in the opposite direction, bound for Canby High School.
Evidence from the airbag control module inside Kellar’s vehicle indicated he was driving 75 mph at the time of impact, and that he did not touch his brakes in the five seconds immediately preceding the crash.
Traffic and collision experts at the trial estimated Dewar was traveling at about 36 mph, based on security camera footage of the incident.
The speed limit in the area is 55 mph, though witnesses, including Kellar himself, acknowledged that the weather conditions that morning (heavy rain and wind) called for lower speeds in accordance with Oregon’s basic rule.
Kellar took the stand Friday afternoon, on the third day of trial. He maintained that he has no memory of the collision or of attempting to pass and, in police interviews following the incident and on the stand at trial, he expressed disbelief at his own actions that morning.
“I don’t believe I would have tried to pass, because I saw [oncoming] headlights, and I know that’s not a smart thing to do,” Kellar said during his cross-examination Friday by Deputy District Attorney Eriks Berzins.
Asked by Berzins his reaction the first time he saw the video from the scene, in which he clearly moves into the oncoming lane to initiate the pass before slamming into Dewar’s car, Kellar said, “I could only describe it as shock. I couldn’t believe the video showed what it showed.”
Kellar had a spirited defense led by former state and federal prosecutor Amanda Marshall, now in private practice in Portland, who attempted to poke holes in the county’s investigation and defended the reasonableness of her client’s actions, given the conditions, setting and behavior of the other drivers.
In her lengthy and eloquent closing statement Monday, she argued the state had failed to meet the high burden of proving her client’s actions were reckless to the point of representing a “gross deviation” from the behavior of a reasonable person in the same situation.
But Gilmartin disagreed, making much of the fact that Kellar recalled seeing the oncoming headlights of Dewar’s vehicle and recognized the danger — and that the defense’s own expert had testified he felt there had been enough time for Kellar to slow down and reenter his lane before the collision.
“This court finds that a reasonable person would have followed the rules of the road and the safe-driving requirements of the Oregon driver manual,” Gilmartin said in her bench ruling.
“I do find that Ryan Kellar understood the risk of passing under those conditions, including the risk of a head-on collision that could cause a fatality. … The risk was undeniable, and there is no justification.”
The judge repeated more than once that her job was to consider only the facts and evidence before her, not make a moral decision or judgment of Kellar’s character. She stated at the outset that she did not believe Kellar had intended to harm Matthew Dewar or anyone else (and the state had not argued otherwise).
Gilmartin postponed judgment on two charges of fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor, for the injuries Dewar’s younger brothers sustained in the crash due to a disagreement over whether sufficient evidence of their injuries had been presented, or whether they had been stipulated to by the attorneys.
The matter will be revisited at a later date.
Kellar’s disposition, the juvenile system’s equivalent of sentencing, was set for May 11. He has been confined to house arrest in his parents’ Mulino home since the November 2021 incident.
Under state law, Kellar’s maximum punishment would be commitment to the custody of the Oregon Youth Authority until age 25.
Matthew’s parents, David and Paige Dewar, attended every day of the trial, sitting with family and friends. Paige Dewar was among the witnesses called by the state and testified on the family’s behalf.
Matthew Dewar was a member of several local youth groups, including at Bethany Evangelical Church in Canby, and an avid basketball player and cross-country runner. He was a student at Canby High School before moving to Country Christian for his junior year.
Kellar continued to attend classes at Canby High School while following the terms of his house arrest, graduating last year.
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