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030712 wreck scene

Friends of the four men involved in the crash on Hillview Way gather at the scene where the car went off a curve, rolling several times. The driver, Justin Barber, faces two charges of vehicular homicide while under the influence, and one of negligent vehicular assault, according to Deputy Missoula Attorney Jennifer Clark.

Details of a plea agreement for a young man who drove a car that crashed on Hillview Way earlier this year, killing two of the four occupants, are still being worked out, Justin Leshai Barber’s attorney said Wednesday.

Barber, 21, is charged with two counts of vehicular homicide under the influence and one of negligent vehicular assault. He was supposed to plead guilty Wednesday in Missoula County District Court, but that has been rescheduled for Nov. 28.

Barber’s attorney, Milt Datsopoulos, said he’s still discussing Barber’s potential sentence with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office and with the families involved.

“Normally, with charges of this nature, especially in the last three to five years, there’s heavy penalties,” said Datsopoulos, referring to the prison sentences routinely handed down in cases involving drunken driving fatalities.

A person convicted of vehicular homicide while under the influence can face as much as 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine, or both. Negligent vehicular assault that causes serious bodily injury carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Assistant Chief Deputy County Attorney Jennifer Clark said the severity of the crime demands some prison time, even though some of the victims’ families have asked that Barber not go to prison. All four young men in the car were friends.

The sentence initially suggested by the County Attorney’s Office involved “significant” time in prison, Clark said, followed by some suspended time.

“There are certain cases, this being one, where there needs to be a very individual approach to an appropriate sentence,” Datsopoulos said. “We can either destroy another young life ... or tailor a sentence to properly address the seriousness of what happened.”

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Jason McDonald, 20, of Frenchtown, and Joshua Gruebele, 18, of Missoula, died in March when the Cadillac Barber was driving went off Hillview near 23rd Street. Nicholas Von Platz, 22, was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment of his injuries.

The Montana Highway Patrol estimated the Cadillac was traveling at more than 80 mph downhill before it rolled several times and flipped into some trees.

Barber has been held on $500,000 bail in the Missoula County Detention Facility ever since. Datsopoulos suggested Wednesday that time should be applied to Barber’s eventual sentence.

Reporter Gwen Flori can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com or @CopsAndCourts.

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