The 21-year-old Missoula man accused of driving drunk and killing two of his friends Sunday will remain in jail for the time being.
Missoula County Justice of the Peace John Odlin set bail at $500,000 for Justin Leshai Barber, accused of driving a Cadillac that spun out of control while speeding down Hillview Way early Sunday morning. The Montana Highway Patrol estimated the car was traveling at least 80 mph when it left the road.
All four young men were thrown from the vehicle as it rolled down the hill, according to charging documents. Jason McDonald, 20, of Frenchtown, was dead at the scene, while 18-year-old Joshua Gruebele died the next day at St. Patrick Hospital, according to the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office.
Nicholas Von Platz was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he remained in serious condition in the intensive care unit Wednesday, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Police picked Barber up at the hospital Tuesday and took him straight to jail, according to Detective Sgt. Bob Bouchee.
“This is an absolutely monumental human tragedy,” said Barber’s attorney, Milt Datsopoulos, after the initial court appearance Wednesday.
Barber is charged with two counts of vehicular homicide while under the influence, and one count of negligent vehicular assault resulting in serious injury, all felonies.
In addition to those charges, Barber faces several charges from previous cases, Deputy County Attorney Suzy Boylan told Odlin.
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Those include failure to appear at three separate hearings in January, driving while his license was suspended, driving without insurance and displaying fictitious or altered license plates. He also faces two separate seat-belt violations, she said.
Odlin agreed with Boylan that Barber should not be screened for pretrial release. He likewise approved her requests that, should Barber be able to post bond, he be forbidden to drive or to have any contact with the families of McDonald and Gruebele, or with Von Platz and his family.
Datsopoulos said he planned to revisit those conditions, along with the bail amount, at another hearing. He pointed out that Barber called police when he was being released from the hospital and told them he’d wait until they could pick him up.
“It’s important to note that all four of these people had been close friends since high school,” Datsopoulos said after the hearing. “We expect the defendant is going to face his responsibility here. We’ll try to deal appropriately with this, knowing there’s a lot of pain out there.”
An array of sentences is available in such cases, Datsopoulos said.
“We want to avoid the destruction of Justin,” he said, adding, “knowing he’s got responsibility.”
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, email@example.com, or @CopsAndCourts on Twitter.