BILLINGS – On the night a drunk behind the wheel of a speeding junker altered her life forever, Colleen Bushard had just returned to her Billings home after spending Christmas 2006 with family.
Because her Dodge Caravan was loaded with gifts, she decided to back it into her driveway to unload.
Bushard didn’t know that her neighbors had been watching in alarm as a 1990 Chevrolet Corsica raced up and down the street, or that some of them had called police to complain. The first inkling came with the sound of a racing engine approaching from a few blocks away.
“I thought, ‘Man, that guy is really hauling,’ ” Bushard said. “That’s the last thing I remember before waking up to my neighbors’ screaming.”
The impact threw her van into the street and crumpled the driver’s door and part of the dash into her body.
“The next thing I knew, a fireman was holding my head and talking to me,” she said. “He told me they were going to have to use the Jaws of Life to get me out of there.”
At the emergency room, doctors found seven smashed ribs on her left side, a partially collapsed lung and a lacerated spleen.
She spent a week in the hospital and five weeks away from her job as a rehab counselor with the state. The financial cost of the crash has so far totaled more than $50,000. Bushard, now 62, will deal with the other cost – pain – for the rest of her life.
“It was his fourth DUI,” she said of the man who smashed into her van. “He had no insurance, no licenses, no nothing.”
Roy Steven St. Dennis, now 39, was treated and released at the hospital after the wreck. His brother, Michael, was a passenger in the car and spent a day or two in the hospital, Bushard said.
Roy St. Dennis’ blood-alcohol concentration after the accident was 0.25 percent – more than three times the amount to be considered legally drunk.
“The car Mr. St. Dennis was driving came over the hill off to my left and, according to police reports, hit me at 64 mph,” Bushard wrote in a statement to the sentencing judge. “That was after he had applied brakes for 132 feet.”
St. Dennis pleaded guilty to negligent vehicular assault instead of DUI. Bushard praised prosecutors for going that route; the maximum penalty for felony DUI is 13 months. District Judge Russell Fagg sentenced St. Dennis to 10 years in prison, with four years suspended. He also ordered restitution to Bushard and her insurance company in the amount of $38,581.
Bushard said St. Dennis, now on probation, has made some restitution payments, “but it’s nothing you can count on.”
The trauma of the accident still makes her a wary driver and passenger. She is also still angry.
“You just feel so assaulted mentally, physically and emotionally,” she said. “Their foolishness put your life, your way of life in jeopardy. It’s kind of overwhelming.”
Bushard isn’t sure St. Dennis ever appreciated the gravity of his crime.
In her statement to the judge, she said: “Mr. St. Dennis made a remark to a neighbor of mine a couple of weeks after the incident to the effect: ‘I do not know why everyone is making such a big deal over this. No one got killed.’ Since Mr. St. Dennis’ benchmark for his drinking and driving is killing someone, I would hope the justice system would take him off the streets before he is able to meet such an irresponsible goal. It has been my experience that victims seldom have choices, but perpetrators always do.”