5 years after son’s death, Southcentral mom wants new criminal statute in Alaska

Paul Winter
Paul Winter
Published: Jul. 4, 2023 at 3:59 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In June of 2018, 40-year-old Paul Winter — a son, husband and father of one — was killed while rollerblading in Anchorage. Soon after, criminal charges would be filed against a teenager who court documents show was driving recklessly and under the influence when she fatally struck Winter with her vehicle near the intersection of Cordova Street and Ninth Avenue in downtown Anchorage.

Five years later — and just days after the sentencing of the woman who took her son’s life — Winter’s mother has taken on a new mission, setting out on a journey to change sentencing ranges and create an additional consequence for when criminal cases involve victims with children.

“That’s what I base my hope in, is that there will be changes for other families,” Bonnie Steinriede said, “after we’ve gone through this – and it’s happening, it just happens over and over and over.

“It was draining for the entire family,” she said of the recent sentencing, “so we’re all glad that it’s over.”

The young woman who struck and killed Winter before fleeing the scene agreed to a plea deal and was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison.

However, Steinriede isn’t the only person Winter left behind with his passing. His father had already died, but he had a brother and was married. He also had a young daughter who was just 3 years old at the time of his death.

“She looks like him, she’s very outgoing like he was, very funny sense of humor,” Steinriede said of her granddaughter. “There’s a lot about her that I see in Paul. And she misses her dad very, very much, and has a lot of memories. Even though she was only three years old when this happened, she has lots of memories, and she calls him her ‘Superhero Dad.’”

The youngster is a big part of why Steinriede has taken on such an immense challenge. She wants a law put into place that requires child support from people convicted of deadly crimes involving impaired driving.

“Of course, money cannot bring a loved one back,” Steinriede said. “Neither can the amount of time served. But it can make things easier on the family.”

She is also looking for changes to sentencing ranges, and in particular, for the addition of vehicular homicide to Alaska’s criminal statutes, which currently include criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter, and first-degree and second-degree murder.

“There is not a vehicular homicide law in the state of Alaska,” she said. “That needs to change.”

Department of Law Criminal Division Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore said that Alaska is one of only a few states in the entire United States that lump vehicular homicide into other categories rather than it being its own. Here, the criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter, murder 1 and murder 2 statutes are used to address it instead.

“A vehicle, driven by someone, causes the death of someone other than the driver, that’s referred to as vehicular homicide,” Skidmore said. “And with the exception of three or four states, every other state in the country has a specific statute to address that conduct and therefore specific sentences to address that conduct.”

Ranges were established in criminal code when Alaska became a state, Skidmore said, and they were, at first, presumptive, to include set terms. Then, around the time the Supreme Court decision on Blakely v. Washington came out, the State Legislature here made adjustments.

“In a nutshell, Blakely said that if a court was going to impose greater than the presumptive sentence, then a jury had to find proof beyond a reasonable doubt, on a factual basis the underlying reason, to exceed the presumptive range,” Skidmore said.

As it was with the original establishment of presumptive sentences and sentencing ranges, changing them requires the power of the state legislature.

“A decision for each state legislature to make,” Skidmore added, “and to implement in their state for what they think is most appropriate there.”

As for child support payments, Skidmore also explained that any money paid would be considered restitution, and that he’s not aware of attempts to specifically claim child support as restitution. Similar to there being a statute addressing the court’s authority to order restitution – in which wages, counseling, medical bills and other provisions are discussed, he said, but not child support – he believes a statute change, and thus legislative action, would be the route to make that a possibility.

Today, a half-decade after her son’s death, Steinriede said she’s simply hopeful that other families might see change in the future.

“This is what’s going to help bring some closure in this whole tragedy,” Steinriede said, “is knowing that something positive has come out of it.”

A memorial bench dedicated in Paul’s name is also featured within Kincaid Park, which the public is free to utilize as they travel the trails there.