A Whitefish man pleaded not guilty to felony vehicular homicide while under the influence of drugs, in Flathead District Court on Sept. 7.
Dillon Johnson, 21, was charged in the incident more than a year after his passenger, a 17-year-old Bigfork girl, died from injuries sustained in a crash.
The charge stems from a July 3, 2016 one-vehicle crash on U.S. 93 South where a sport utility vehicle rolled off the roadway near the Flathead Valley Cowboy Church. The driver of the vehicle was identified as Johnson and its passenger as Madison Duke.
According to court documents, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Josh Nanna conducted a crash-scene investigation and determined that the vehicle had drifted off the right side of the road, striking a delineator post (a reflective roadside marker). The vehicle reportedly continued to drive off-road, parallel to the highway, for several hundred feet before it abruptly steered to the left and crossed southbound lanes, then over-corrected to the right causing the vehicle to roll — driver’s side first — at least four times before coming to rest.
Other motorists pulled Johnson and Duke from the vehicle as it caught fire. Johnson reportedly collapsed after walking a short distance and was transported to the hospital. Duke was unconscious and badly injured. Despite receiving emergency medical assistance, she died from blunt-force trauma.
Duke would have been a senior at Bigfork High School in the fall of 2016.
Johnson was briefly questioned at the hospital and said he couldn’t remember the crash, court documents state. Blood drawn from Johnson and analyzed by Montana State Crime Lab showed concentrations of methamphetamine, amphetamine and metabolized THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
Following his investigation, Nanna concluded that Johnson drove “in a careless, inattentive manner and his ability to drive safely was diminished due to his recent drug use,” on the basis that there was full visibility and no precipitation or defects on the road that would have caused or contributed to the crash court documents state.
A jury trial is set for Feb. 26, 2018. If convicted, Johnson could face a maximum 30-year prison sentence and fine of $50,000.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.