Katie Garding, charged in the New Year's Day 2008 hit-and-run death of a pedestrian in East Missoula, said that night "I hit somebody," her ex-boyfriend testified Wednesday in Missoula County District Court.
James Bordeaux testified that he and another passenger in Garding's black Chevy Blazer were arguing over a gun when he felt an impact.
"I see a person flying through the air - two feet, two arms," Bordeaux said.
Garding, 24, of Stevensville, is on trial in Missoula County District Court on negligent homicide and other felony charges in the death of Bronson Parsons, 25, originally from Troy.
Parsons and his roommate were walking along Highway 200 in East Missoula at about 1:40 a.m. to continue their New Year's celebration when a dark-colored sport utility vehicle struck Parsons and carried him away. He was pronounced dead several hours later at St. Patrick Hospital.
Garding watched impassively Wednesday as Bordeaux described an early morning drive through East Missoula in which he and fellow passenger Paul "Bart" McFarling were arguing because McFarling had just pulled out a gun he'd been carrying throughout their night of drinking and partying in bars and at a relative's home.
Garding turned to watch the commotion, Bordeaux said.
"I said, ‘Pull the car over. I'm going to snatch (McFarling) out of the car.' And that's pretty much when whatever happened, happened," Bordeaux said.
Garding had turned to look at the two men and "that's when we hit the guy," he said.
The trio sped away, he said, "kind of in a panic about what to do. Like me, I had warrants. Bart had a gun. She's (Garding) driving drunk. We've got liquor and weed on us."
Bordeaux, who has daggers tattooed on either side of his neck, was transferred from a prison in Missouri to testify at the trial, and appeared on the witness stand in handcuffs and orange jail garb. When he finishes doing time in Missouri, he'll come back to Montana to serve the five-year sentence he received after pleading guilty to taking McFarling's gun from his house later that Jan. 1.
Wednesday's testimony in the trial presided over by District Judge John Larson marked the first time Bordeaux had said publicly the Blazer struck a person. In earlier interviews and court testimony, Bordeaux has said he felt the car hit something, possibly an animal. His earlier versions of events also varied in the details of how the trio had spent an evening that began at Red's Bar in downtown Missoula.
"I didn't really feel like it was untruthful," he said Wednesday of his previous statements. "I just didn't state the complete facts."
Throughout the trial, both prosecutors and the defense have struggled to establish a consistent timeline of events that night, and the whereabouts of those involved.
Public Defender Jennifer Streano cross-examined Bordeaux at length about the discrepancies in his various stories. On Wednesday, Bordeaux testified that he and Garding began partying at Red's, where they met McFarling, who was new in town. They went to East Missoula and rang in the New Year at the Reno Casino, he said.
On Wednesday, unlike in previous interviews and testimony, he said the trio went in search of cocaine at a relative's house in East Missoula after leaving the Reno and before returning to Red's.
That would have put the Blazer on a course to encounter Parsons, who was struck east of the Reno.
Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Andrew Novak, who investigated the case, passed Parsons and his roommate as the two men walked along the shoulder of Highway 200.
Novak was on his way to assist another trooper with a traffic stop in Bonner that involved people who just minutes earlier had been partying with Garding, Bordeaux and McFarling at the Reno. While Novak was in Bonner, he got a call about the hit-and-run.
By the time he returned, one of the pedestrians he'd seen earlier was lying on his back in the road. "He appeared to have sustained injuries that might prove fatal," Novak said.
The trooper teared up briefly when describing his frustration in being unable to produce a useful video from several surveillance cameras, including the one in his car, that would show the vehicle that struck Parsons. Garding was not arrested until more than two years after Parsons' death.
A tip from a Missoula County jail inmate who unsuccessfully sought immunity led authorities to Garding. Novak testified Wednesday that it took several pieces of evidence to result in the charges against her, however.
On Wednesday afternoon, two of those pieces sat in mute testimony on the witness stand.
Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jennifer Clark asked Novak to estimate the height of their soles. About an inch, he replied.
Earlier in the trial, state Medical Examiner Gary Dale testified that the vehicle that struck Parsons had crushed his calf muscles about 14 inches to 17 inches above his heels.
The welded steel bumper added to Garding's Blazer was about 15 inches to 18 inches from the ground.