A chronic drunken driver who crashed his Ford Taurus off a 300-foot embankment on Deer Creek Road pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony charges of driving under the influence.

Brandon Darrah, 24, of East Missoula, appeared for the change-of-plea hearing before Judge Ed McLean in Missoula District Court. He pleaded guilty to a fifth DUI offense, driving with a suspended license, driving without proof of insurance and failure to give notice of an accident by the quickest means possible.

Darrah also admitted that he violated the conditions of his probation by drinking and driving - conditions that McLean set just nine days before Darrah s Nov. 13 plunge off Deer Creek Road.

Sentencing in the case is set for March 17, and Darrah could go to prison for up to 25 years. He faces a longer term if a judge designates him as a persistent felony offender.

Just prior to the crash on Deer Creek Road, Darrah had been convicted of his fourth DUI offense, and of criminal possession of dangerous drugs with the intent to distribute, both felonies.

In Montana, a DUI becomes a felony upon a person's fourth or subsequent conviction.

Darrah also has been convicted of being a habitual traffic offender, a high misdemeanor.

He received only minor injuries when he drove over an earthern berm and off the edge of Deer Creek Road near mile marker 5, then ran away from the wreckage and went home. Emergency medics and a Montana Highway Patrol officer had to rappel down from an "extremely steep" embankment to reach Darrah's totaled car, according to records.

Authorities caught up with Darrah a short time later at his home in East Missoula. His blood alcohol concentration registered at 0.182, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.

He remains jailed on a $25,000 bail for the new charges, which runs consecutive to an additional $25,000 bail set by Judge McLean in the previous case.

Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at 523-5264 or at tscott@missoulian.com.



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