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Man sentenced for 2022 fatal drunk driving crash that killed passenger

Austin Eric Christensen was sentenced by District Judge Bruce Pickett on Wednesday. | Kaitlyn Hart,
IDAHO FALLS – A 25-year-old man was sent to a rider Wednesday, more than two years after a 2022 rollover crash that killed his friend.
District Judge Bruce Pickett sentenced Austin Eric Christensen to a minimum of three years and a maximum of 12 years in prison for a drunk driving crash that ended with the death of his passenger and friend, 24-year-old Isaac Flores. Pickett then retained jurisdiction, meaning Christensen will complete a one-year rider treatment program in prison. Once the program is over, Pickett will decide whether to send him back to prison for his given sentence or release him back onto probation.
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Christensen’s driver’s license was suspended for one year, and he will be required to put an interlock device on his car for two years, both after his rider is completed. He will also have to pay $1,000 in court fines and fees.
After initially pleading not guilty, Christensen signed a plea agreement in April, agreeing to plead guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter regarding the death of Flores, in return for the prosecution agreeing to recommend a retained jurisdiction at sentencing.
During the sentencing, Christensen’s attorney, Allen Browning, argued his client should be placed on a rider due to support from the victim’s family and because he lacks any previous criminal history.
“Mr. Christensen, of course, feels horrible for what he did that night. The two of them had been drinking. He got behind the wheel and lost control of his car. The car skidded off the road, ran into a tree, and his best friend, Isaac Flores, died as a result of that,” said Browning. “It’s been extremely hard for him to come to grips with what has happened. To his great surprise, Mr. Flores’ family has been very emotionally supportive of him at this time.”
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Bonneville County Prosecutor Randy Neal also argued Christensen should be placed on a rider but with an underlying sentence of three to 12 years in prison due to the severity of the crime and that Flores lost his life.
“This is a significant example of how justice is not something we can approach categorically. I mean, these are bad facts. We have a high BAC (blood alcohol content), we have a death. The BAC came back at .204,” said Neal. “We have a family that is grieving the loss of a child, and yet restoring them in their sense of justice — it has nothing to do with retribution, it has nothing to do with some kind of a severe punishment to make them feel like justice had been served.”

Austin Eric Christensen | Bonneville County Jail
Christensen briefly spoke to the judge about Flores, describing him as someone everyone wanted to be friends with.
“Isaac was an amazing person. He had a positive impact on everybody that he was around. Everybody loved him. Everybody wanted to be his friend,” said Christensen. “He was definitely a positive member of the community, and I think it’s an absolute tragedy that so many people are going to miss out on that now.”
He continued, taking responsibility for his actions and thanking Flores’ family for their support.
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“I understand that drinking and driving is a choice, and it’s a choice that I made that haunts me every single day. He has an amazing family, they’re some of the best people that I have met. Genuinely, they held no judgement against me,” Christensen said. “They didn’t even say that there was a need for an apology, because they weren’t upset at me. I’m just happy now to be in a position where I can satisfy the community and move forward.”
Pickett described his reasoning for following the plea agreement, saying without the mitigating factors of a guilty pleas and no previous criminal history, Christensen would be serving a prison sentence, not a rider.
“Frankly, I think these are the hardest cases that I think we deal with as a court system. Because in this case, Mr. Christensen committed a horrible crime. Mr. Flores has passed away because of your actions and what happened,” said Pickett. “However, you’re not a bad person.”
Pickett then read the facts of the case, depicting the scene of the crash, officers finding empty Bud Light bottles in and near the truck, and proof of speeding and icy weather conditions, all leading to Flores’ death.
“That’s a horrible scene,” said Pickett. “Sadly, Mr. Flores passed away. We’re just lucky there’s not more. We’re lucky there were no kids walking on the road, we’re lucky there weren’t other drivers that were struck. When we talk about protection of society, this is exactly what we’re talking about. When I read through this, absent of the plea agreement and other mitigation factors, you wouldn’t be doing a rider — you’d be doing prison.”
Around 5 a.m. on Jan. 16, 2022, an Idaho Falls Police officer was called to a rollover crash on Snake River Parkway in Idaho Falls after the driver, Christensen, called 911 saying his passenger was injured and unresponsive.
According to court documents, officers found a silver 2008 four-door Toyota Tacoma east of the parkway in a grass field and noticed debris from the truck and nearby trees scattered along the road.
The front passenger, identified as Flores, succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead on the scene.
Officers reportedly found cans of Bud Light on the ground and in the truck. After investigation, officers say the truck was going northbound on Snake River Parkway when it veered out of its lane and drove onto the road’s center divider.
The side tires went onto the raised divider and traveled about 183 feet before hitting a tree.
The tree then broke and landed on the front driver’s side of the truck above the headlight area. The truck continued driving another 48 feet before returning toward the northbound lane.
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When Christensen turned the wheel to go back in the direction of the road, the tires became separated from the rim, causing the driver’s side wheels to become “gouged into the roads surface.”
This caused the truck to spin and hit a “hard, frozen ice and snow mixture.” This impact caused the truck to “leave the ground and start to roll in midair.” While in the air, the truck hit another tree, breaking it off at ground level.
The truck then landed on the passenger side, on top of a fire hydrant that impacted the rear passenger door and back of the cab.
The truck then went airborne again after coming off the fire hydrant and continued to roll, eventually coming to rest facing east, 43 feet from the hydrant. According to police reports, Christensen and Flores had seatbelts on during the crash.
On Jan. 17, the officer contacted Christensen who said he and Flores had met at a bar, went to second bar and then to a friend’s house.
Christensen was reportedly taking Flores home from the friend’s house when the rollover happened. Court documents say Christensen was not hurt, other than a few scratches and minor cuts on his left hand.
Court records show Christensen was arrested and booked into the Bonneville County Jail with a bond of $75,000. He posted bail and was released the same day.
Neal, the prosecutor, said delays in the investigation caused a lengthier-than-usual amount of time between the crash and the arrest.
The post Man sentenced for 2022 fatal drunk driving crash that killed passenger appeared first on East Idaho News.

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