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The man accused of negligent homicide in the hit-and-run death of University of Montana Russian professor Marina Kanevskaya received a two-year deferred sentence in District Court on Tuesday.

Erik Wayne Lee of Drummond pleaded guilty to the charge in March after accepting a plea agreement, and District Judge John Henson stuck to the agreement in his sentencing.

Two years' probation is an unusually light sentence for a negligent homicide, but County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg said he believes it is appropriate, considering the unusual circumstances of the case.

"We did not allege that his driving caused any negligent acts," Van Valkenburg said. Instead, he said, it was what Lee did not do that was negligent.

Lee hit Kanevskaya with his truck on the night of Dec. 13, 2002, and knocked her down as she was crossing Maurice Avenue near the entrance to the Adams Center parking lot. Police said Lee then stopped, checked his truck and drove away without seeing Kanevskaya in the road or offering help. Kanevskaya was likely killed by a second driver who could not see her in the road. The second driver was not cited.

"He could have rendered some aid to her and protected her from the second vehicle," Van Valkenburg said.

Lee's attorney, Morgan Modine, said a deferred sentence would allow his client to keep his logging job and pay restitution to Kanevskaya's family. Part of the plea agreement calls for Lee to pay Kanevskaya's medical and funeral expenses.

"This is a tragic situation that involves a number of people and a number of incidences that could not have been foreseen," Modine said.

Henson did not require Lee to seek counseling, but he did note that the author of a pre-sentence investigation suggested that it would be a good idea for Lee to get help dealing with the emotional impact of the accident.

"I simply wanted to bring it to his attention," Henson said.

Reporter Ericka Schenck Smith can be reached at 523-5259 or at esmith@missoulian.com

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