Snoqualmie Valley School Board member’s DUI, hit-and-run sparks community outcry

Some in the area are requesting the school board member’s resignation.

Some are calling for Snoqualmie Valley School Board member Gary Fancher to step down after he recently announced he was arrested and charged for a DUI and hit-and-run in January.

His initial announcement came in the form of a statement published on the Living Snoqualmie blog website on March 11.

In Fancher’s statement, which he later sent to the Valley Record, he says he is “deeply embarrassed, disappointed and upset” with himself but is “determined to use this experience for personal growth and self improvement.”

Community response

But members of the school community think his actions deserve more than an apology.

Ann Heideman, a retired teacher, said it’s all well and good to apologize but she believes the school board should request his resignation.

“Gary’s passed his responsibility to the board and they’re shrugging it off,” Heideman said.

She also pointed out Fancher’s occupation as a “custodial parent,” or stay-at-home dad, so she wants to know why he was “getting plastered” on a school night.

Elizabeth Schomber, a parent of a student in the Snoqualmie Valley School District, also thinks he should step down.

“This is a candidate that ran on a platform of keeping drugs and alcohol out of our schools,” Schomber said.

Fancher was elected to the school board in November 2017 and began his term in January.

“We are now left with Mr. Fancher being charged with a crime,” Schomber added. “As a parent of a student in the district, I do not feel good about his judgment to make decisions for my child or other children in the district.”

Schomber said she doesn’t trust Fancher’s ability to make decisions on the hiring of a new superintendent and thinks he should focus on his own problems at home instead.

But others in the community are defending Fancher.

Jeff Martine, who has been Fancher’s neighbor for 20 years and worked with him on many community issues, said he has witnessed Fancher’s “rock-solid character.”

“I know losing him would be a tragedy,” Martine said in an email to the Record. “Impaired driving is a huge problem and Gary made a mistake … ”

He said if Fancher is asked to resign as an example to students, “will the same standard be applied now to all the teachers and administrators in the district? Randy Dorn, while our state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, didn’t resign even when he was convicted of a DUI in 2010.”

Parent Stephen Kangas noted in an email that Fancher has volunteered information about his incident, “which demonstrates an openness in his character that has been missing in the attitudes of some past school board directors, or even current career local, state, and federal politicians. But then, the Gary Fancher I’ve come to know is not a politician, he’s a 19 year volunteer community servant wanting the trust and respect of those he serves. It’s not entirely surprising to me that he has voluntarily come forward so soon with information about this incident, something I would not expect from those few who are so vehemently trying to attack him now if they were in his shoes.”

Snoqualmie Valley School District spokeswoman Carolyn Malcolm said the school district has no policy relating to school board members being charged or convicted of crimes.

“The district and school board have no formal authority over Mr. Fancher, as related to this matter,” she said.

Malcolm did confirm the school board is aware of the issue and has discussed it with him, however.

Carolyn Simpson, the Snoqulamie Valley School Board president, confirmed the board met in executive session on March 8 to discuss complaints and charges against Fancher, however, no action was taken nor a statement was made when the board reconvened.

“The board will continue to monitor the situation and could determine to reconvene an executive session should there be an update,” Simpson wrote in an email. “School boards (and other elected bodies like them) neither have the power nor the authority under the law to suspend or expel duly elected directors.”

In a phone interview, Fancher said people are quick to judge.

“People don’t know who I am,” he said. “I’m not a big drinker. This is this small part of my life that doesn’t represent the 20 years of service and community work I’ve done. It doesn’t erase that.”

The arrest

According to a Snoqualmie Police Department police report, an officer was patrolling North Bend in the early hours of Jan. 19 when the officer was dispatched to a collision. Fancher’s OnStar service had called 911 and he said he was unsure if he had hit anything but knew his airbags deployed.

The officer approached the scene after Fancher had become disconnected with dispatch and saw a severely damaged gray Chevy Tahoe and debris surrounding it heading toward the officer’s patrol vehicle.

“The front end of the vehicle was destroyed,” the police report states. “As the vehicle passed me driving westbound on 140th, I could see all of the side curtain airbags had deployed along with the driver’s airbag.”

The officer quickly made a U-turn to catch up to the suspect, but he continued driving and increased his speed from 5 mph to 15 mph. After the officer activated a police siren, the suspect relented and pulled over. Police searched Fancher for weapons before speaking to him. When he gave his story, he told officers he was driving home from a Snoqualmie Valley School Board meeting.

He told the Record the night he was arrested he told police officers he was on the school board because it was past midnight and he was trying to explain how tired he was. According to the police report, Fancher initially denied he’d been drinking, however, he admitted he had after an officer told him he smelled alcohol on his breath.

“He finally admitted he had only one 16 ounce beer after the meeting,” the report continues.

The officer took Fancher through a series of field sobriety tests and arrested him at 12:46 a.m. after he failed to pass each. A little more than an hour after he was arrested, Fancher completed another police interview and said he had consumed two beers and agreed to a blood alcohol content test, in which his results revealed he had a .087 and .o86.

As police took Fancher to Issaquah City Jail, the officer was informed Fancher had crashed into a tree and high voltage power box on 140th and North Bend Way before calling 911 and then leaving the scene. According to Living Snoqualmie blog, Fancher’s court hearing will be held on March 28.

Fancher speaks up

“Although this is the lowest moment in my life next to my mother’s passing,” Fancher wrote in his statement. “I am determined to use this experience for personal growth and self-improvement.”

Fancher apologized for his actions and said he has taken a professionally administered alcohol assessment by a state certified alcohol/chemical dependency agency and has completed an alcohol information school with a session of the DUI’s Victim’s Panel.

“These programs were eye-opening and impactful,” he wrote, adding he hopes to help reduce incidents like his by talking, presenting and organizing events to better inform the community about the “perils of driving after any amount of alcohol.”

“Regrettably, I join the over 40,000 DUI arrests in our state each year,” Fancher continued, “but vow to use this moment to bring light to this never-ending trend and convey the slogan Don’t Drink and Drive.”

Fancher told the Record the board had asked him to prepare his statement. At this point, he has no plans to resign from the school board and looks at the path forward as a learning opportunity.

He said he’d like to eventually appeal to his legislator a law that requires beer or ale to be labled the same as wine or hard alcohol and for taps to have notifications for alcoholic beers.

“Most beers are 3.5 to 5 percent alcohol and some beers today are 8.5 percent,” he said, adding he is working on hosting a talk or class for parents and students. “… One drink an hour is no longer the case.”