Kindred sentenced in vehicular homicide case

The islander will be required to receive mental health treatment over the 2022 homicide.

This article has been updated to make clarifications and to more accurately state the perspectives of Philip Cushman’s family and friends.

Alexander Kindred, who struck and killed fellow islander Dr. Philip Cushman with his car in August 2022, was sentenced on April 19 to receive mental health treatment, concluding a heart-wrenching criminal case over the death of the beloved Vashon psychologist, author and community member.

As long as Kindred, 36, follows his sentence, which includes two years of mental health court, continued electronic home monitoring and no time behind the wheel, he won’t have to go behind bars.

Kindred fatally struck Cushman, who was 77, while Cushman was walking on Thorsen Road in the early evening of Aug. 22, 2022. Kindred killed Cushman while deep in the throes of severe, undiagnosed schizophrenia, his family and attorney said.

Police work indicated that Kindred had swerved across the road and onto the shoulder when he slammed into Cushman, throwing Cushman hard off of the roadway and into the brush, where his body was later discovered.

Cushman’s family and friends expressed frustration with the relative leniency of the sentence. Several said that while they want to see Kindred get help, the court-ordered treatment did not seem to hold Kindred fully accountable for the senseless homicide.

“Honestly, we don’t feel great about it,” Cushman’s daughter Leah Cushman told The Beachcomber. “We’re glad that Alex is getting help … but it just doesn’t seem fair that he killed someone and his punishment is basically getting … the treatment he should have gotten already. Of course this kind of mental illness is very difficult and we have sympathy for his struggles, but we can feel that way and also expect that there will be appropriate consequences for his actions.”

Ed Cushman, brother of Philip Cushman, said he loved his patient, wise, compassionate brother dearly — and still mourns his “senseless” death.

Kindred’s mental health, while relevant to the crime, did not make him “an innocent person,” Ed said during sentencing: “He is very fortunate to still be living at home, working and avoiding a much harsher life in prison.”

For attorneys on both sides who presented the agreed sentence, and for Kindred’s family, the sentence reflects a hope that people such as Kindred, whose crimes are the result of severe mental illness, will ultimately be safer to the community if given treatment rather than prison time.

“I’m sorry for what happened,” Kindred said in a statement to the court during sentencing. “When the incident had occurred … I wasn’t sleeping. I was hearing voices. I had gotten to the point where I thought I was somewhere else. … I know what I did was wrong. … I’m sorry I wasn’t diagnosed before it happened. I’m sorry that Dr. Cushman’s life had to end before mine got better.”

For Kindred’s family, the case demonstrates two tragedies.

“The first, obviously, is the death of Dr. Philip Cushman who was, by all accounts, a vibrant, caring, intelligent, compassionate man whose life ended suddenly and senselessly,” Kindred’s stepmother Marie Browne said in a statement to The Beachcomber. “… I speak for our entire family when I say we are all so very sorry for this horrible loss of a man who was clearly a wonderful husband, father, colleague, and friend.”

The second tragedy, she said, is the failure of Washington’s mental health care system to help people like her stepson — who Browne said “had been exhibiting signs of mental illness for many years,” but had repeatedly rebuffed attempts by family to get him hospitalized.

“One of the cruel ironies of schizophrenia is that a person with the disease is often not aware that they are sick,” she said.

Kindred’s treatment, which finally started after a crisis at the ferry dock the day after Cushman’s death, “has been nothing short of miraculous,” Browne said. He is working, living at home, and slowly getting his life on track, she said.

“We are grateful to have our son back, and only wish that it did not take the death of an innocent man for that to happen,” Browne said.

Arrest, sentencing, and treatment

Immediately after the homicide, according to prosecutors, Kindred drove to a friend’s house and broke out his windshield using a hammer where it had struck Cushman.

The next morning, a deputy was dispatched to the north-end ferry dock, where Kindred had allegedly been shouting and hitting another person’s car with his hand while holding a machete, in an intense state of psychosis.

Deputies detained him that morning without incident, and he was involuntarily committed for a two-week mental health evaluation after telling deputies that he’d been hearing a voice telling him to “kill.”

Browne told The Beachcomber that it was only after that arrest that Kindred was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“That morning, my husband and I were unaware of the accident that killed Dr. Cushman,” Browne said. “We were just thankful that Alex would finally get a diagnosis and, hopefully, the help he needed.”

Prosecutors originally charged Kindred with one count of felony hit-and-run, which carried a sentencing range of 31-41 months. But that conviction would have left no option for community custody, under which a convicted person is monitored for a time by state officials.

That community custody time is key to the attorneys’ plan to turn to two years of court-mandated mental health treatment instead of prison time. Kindred has already been on electronic home detention up until his guilty plea, prosecutor Amy Freedheim said, where he’s been able to begin receiving treatment.

Defense attorney Alexander Bernstein told Judge Ryan during sentencing that the jointly-agreed sentence is designed so that the trauma of Cushman’s death doesn’t recur: “But for Mr. Kindred’s severe disorder, this tragedy would not have occurred.”

Kindred’s symptoms were severe at the time of homicide — including hallucinations, delusions, and an inability to recognize those symptoms, Bernstein said.

Once involuntary treatment brought Kindred back to his senses, he agreed to continue treatment and has done so for the last year and a half, Bernstein said, and without any violations of his treatment protocols in that time.

And “I can assure the court that Mr. Kindred has not been driving,” the attorney said. “He has no desire to drive. All transportation has been arranged through his family.”

Far from being a privilege or reward, Kindred’s employment, mental health care and ability to recover at home is the work he needs to do, and precisely what will keep him from reoffending, Bernstein said.

Kindred’s undisrupted entry into the two-year mental health court program was made possible by splitting, or “bifurcating” his case, attorneys said.

Under the plea deal, Kindred pleaded guilty on March 13 to felony vehicular homicide (the killing of someone with a car while either under the influence, or due to driving recklessly or disregarding the safety of others), which carries a standard range of 15 to 20 months. He received an exceptional sentence of 12 months.

Meanwhile, he pleaded guilty in Regional Mental Health Court to reckless endangerment and fourth-degree assault.

At the point of his sentencing, Kindred had already spent about 18 months under at-home monitoring, and his “credit for time served” means he won’t have to briefly leave treatment to serve a few days or weeks in prison.

“Even under the guidelines … if I were to order (more) prison time, the reality is that he’d be put in and right back out,” Judge Ryan told the courtroom at sentencing. “That would disrupt the treatment that … by all accounts appears to be working. The community will ultimately be safer if (Kindred) is in that treatment and getting the help he needs.”

Kindred is also required to have no contact with the Cushman family.

Still, the word “frustrating” came up repeatedly for attorneys and the judge.

Judge Ryan acknowledged the frustration shared in letters by Cushman’s friends and family about delays in the case that meant Kindred, who earned credit for time served while on electronic home monitoring, ultimately served very little time behind bars.

Friends of Cushman also said they wanted more safeguards keeping Kindred from operating a vehicle, and several letters to the court expressed hope that Kindred not be allowed to drive again. Judge Ryan also shared frustration that Kindred’s sentence will take away his right to possess a firearm but not his right to drive a car — the actual weapon used to kill Cushman.

Under Kindred’s felony sentence, he’ll have his driver’s license revoked for two years but he’d be allowed to try to earn it back after that time.

“It just seems ironic that we take away someone’s firearm, which they have a constitutional right to possess … but no one has a constitutional right, that I’m aware of, to own a vehicle,” Judge Ryan said.

But Judge Ryan did make one final change to the agreed sentence in court: explicitly barring Kindred from operating a motor vehicle while he serves his year of community custody time. Leah Cushman said the family is “very grateful” to Judge Ryan for doing so.

Kindred’s criminal and driving history is listed on the charging documents as having been speeding and driving without a license in 2019, a disorderly conduct charge in 2015, and driving without a license in 2007.

More perspectives from families, friends

In statements to the court, friends and family of Cushman shared feelings of anguish, loss and fear stemming from Cushman’s death. Several said the incident has led them to feel unsafe and anxious while walking on Vashon.

Family friend Merna Hecht, who kept vigil with Cushman’s wife the night he was reported missing, shared the horror and trauma of discovering the nature of Cushman’s violent death.

Rob Crawford, Hecht’s husband and someone who called Cushman his closest friend, said that Cushman’s death “should never be minimized, rationalized or forgotten” as merely a tragedy, or something from which to simply “move on.”

“Alex Kindred used his automobile in an act — no matter how we understand his intention — that took the life of my friend,” Crawford said.

And they all described the agony of losing an open-hearted, brilliant, loving, and tender human being who was loved and admired near and far, and whose contributions to his field and the world were urgently needed.

Judge Ryan spoke to the profound impact he felt from letters that came in from Vashon and all around the country about the “unbelievable influence” that Cushman has had as a friend, academic and psychologist.

“We have been astounded by the outpouring of grief and support from people on the island,” Leah Cushman told The Beachcomber. “We still get approached all the time in town by people that are crying because they miss my dad. So many people have stepped up and helped my mom and I, from neighbors to business owners to members of the Havurah to the folks at Thriftway.”

Cushman was a family man, psychologist, educator, author and luminary, and worked in a field devoted to helping those who are suffering with mental illness.

He would have “done everything he could to help” Kindred, Leah told The Beachcomber in an email, but she said he also would expect Kindred to devote himself to doing good in the world to make up for the harm he’d caused.

A younger colleague of Cushman’s started an institute in Philip’s name at Boston College — to which hundreds around the country have contributed financially, Ed Cushman said at sentencing, demonstrating the effect his brother has had on so many people’s lives.

“I’m proud and gratified to say this institute will feature lectures, conferences, a library, teaching material from his works, and the like,” Ed said. “His writing will continue to impact many, many people for years to come.”

Judge Ryan closed the hearing with one final piece of advice for Kindred.

“Stay the course. Get the help that you need. I think you understand what a massive impact your actions have had on so many. Don’t forget that. … Try to grow from that. Use that as your motivation forward to get the help you need. … And I wish you the best of luck in getting there.”