Islander sentenced in connection with hit-and-run death

A Vashon man has been sentenced to 30 months in prison in connection with the death of islander Nathan Dorn, Jr.

After pleading guilty to a felony count of vehicular homicide last month, Michael Irwin Henderson, of Vashon, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison in connection with the death of islander Nathan Dorn.

Henderson’s guilty plea to the felony count and two additional misdemeanor counts of hit and run and reckless driving were made in a court hearing on Dec. 14, 2022.

His sentencing occurred on Jan. 6 — Henderson’s 59th birthday — at an emotional hearing in which Dorn’s friends and relatives spoke of the devastating impact of Henderson’s crime.

Henderson’s sentence includes 365 days to be served for the misdemeanor charges, concurrent with the longer sentence for the felony crime, and mandates that he receive credit for time already served in King County Jail since his arrest on April 8, 2022.

The sentence also calls for one year of community supervision following Henderson’s release from prison.

During this time, Henderson will be required to check in with the Department of Corrections and adhere to a number of stipulations, including that he not purchase, possess, or consume alcoholic beverages.

Under the time period of supervision, Henderson is also required to be evaluated for alcohol abuse and will be prohibited from driving without a valid license, insurance and an ignition interlock device.

At sentencing, Henderson was also ordered to pay $5,090 in restitution to Dorn’s family, as well as to have no further contact with the family.

Dorn, a decorated Navy veteran who served as a medic on the battlefields of Vietnam and was beloved by many on Vashon, died after being struck by Henderson’s car as he walked home, on Vashon Highway, on the evening of April 4, 2022.

He was 74 years old.

Dorn had been wearing a bright yellow reflective vest at the time — a safety measure that many islanders confirmed Dorn always took while walking the highway or even waiting for the bus.

Henderson’s arrest came about after islanders informed King County Sheriff’s officers of heavy damage to Henderson’s vehicle, subsequent to Dorn’s death, and markings on it that were consistent with high visibility yellow transfer consistent with Dorn’s safety jacket.

Additionally, surveillance footage obtained by deputies showed that Henderson’s Ford Explorer had not been damaged in the days prior to Dorn’s death, as Henderson falsely claimed in his initial interviews with sheriff’s deputies.

Charging documents by King County Prosecuting Attorney detailed that Henderson was a multiple repeat offender for driving under the influence (DUI), and at the time of his arrest had an active bench warrant in connection with a charge of DUI in Ruston.

At the sentencing hearing, Henderson expressed remorse, saying that his own mother had not spoken to him since his arrest, as she had been a friend of Dorn.

“To say ‘I’m sorry,’ is not nearly enough,” Henderson said, according to notes taken by Casey McNerthney, of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. “…I am as upset with myself as anybody who wants to be mad or very upset with me would be. I’m sorry.”

McNerthney, who attended the sentencing hearing, also said the judge in the case, Sandra E. Wilson, told Dorn’s family that she was required to follow sentencing guidelines set by the legislature.

“I can really understand that when someone dies, particularly in the manner in which your loved one died where he was left alone, that those sentencing ranges seem out of [scale] with the pain you are experiencing as a family,” she said, according to notes taken by McNerthney at the hearing.

In the wake of Dorn’s death, many islanders expressed an outpouring of grief over the death of a man they described as generous, kind and gentle, with a witty and sometimes ribald sense of humor.

He was easily recognizable about town in his uniform of bib overalls, worn with a button-down shirt, sturdy boots and a wide-brimmed hat.

At Henderson’s sentencing, a statement to the court by Dorn’s sister, Dorinda Dorn Kopp, detailed her brother’s life-saving heroism in Vietnam and his later kindness to those in need on Vashon.

“People contacted me after they heard about [his death] and shared the many ways he’d kept them safe, warm and fed,” she said.

She contrasted Dorn’s actions with that of Henderson, who had left the scene after hitting Dorn and lied to police prior to his arrest, and pleaded with the judge to set Henderson’s term in prison at the maximum allowed in his case, 34 months.

Another sister to Dorn, Tanya Gardner, also said that Henderson had made an unconscionable choice to leave her brother’s body after hitting him, something her brother would have never done to another person.

“My brother would have gotten out of the car, rendered first aid, called 911, and held him in his arms while he took his last breath,” she said. “That’s not what the defendant decided to do, and therein lies the difference between my brother, who was a hero, and the defendant.”

Dorn’s daughter, Heather Craft, said in a wrenching statement directly addressed to Henderson, how much she had loved her father, and how his death had devastated her.

“2022 became the year, for me, of ‘I thought I had time,’” the statement said, going on to detail how she wished she could have spent more holidays with her father, and that he could have watched his grandkids grow up because he loved them so much.

“I thought I would be able to see him teach them to drive a tractor … to teach us about mushrooms and bumblebees,” she said. “I am so sad for so many reasons.”

She said her feelings about Henderson had fluctuated on a daily basis.

“I don’t have to forgive you for the harm you have caused, but I do, at the same time, even though I am sure many will not,” she said. “I hope and pray that you can defeat those demons and come out of this a healthier person. I am trying to take something good out of this and knowing how many people have gotten sober since my dad’s death on April 4 is heartening. I hope that your path is one of healing and forgiveness. I hope that this has changed your life.”

Craft also told Henderson that she felt her father would not have wanted her to live with anger that would subsequently affect her life and the lives of her children and family.

“I forgive you because maybe this tragedy will put you on a path to prevent this from happening again,” she said. “And while that may just be my dream, I forgive you because I loved my father and he was the sort of person who saw people as they were and cared for them in their dark places. There will never be a time I don’t miss or need my father.”

After her comments to Henderson, Craft asked the court to make his sentence long enough to perhaps change the trajectory of Henderson’s life.

“I am devastated that I lost my father,” she said. “But next time, this could be a young child or teenager walking home from a high school football game. It could be a couple going for a walk. [Henderson] wasn’t just a drinker at night when it was mostly older people walking. Michael was, from all accounts, an alcoholic [who was] drunk every day. This could have happened at any point …. I do not want someone to go through the pain I have been through. Please take that into consideration when making a final sentence.”