Two days before he was scheduled to stand trial, the man accused of crashing a shuttle car returning from the Testicle Festival and killing two passengers signed a plea agreement for 30 years in state prison.
James Bayford, 44, signed the plea agreement Oct. 14, along with his defense attorney and Missoula County prosecutors. According to the document in Missoula County District Court, he has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of negligent homicide and six counts of negligent endangerment for the 2017 incident.
Prosecutors will recommend 15 years in state prison, which would run consecutively, on each of the negligent homicide counts and one year in county jail for each of the negligent endangerment counts, which would run concurrently.
Monday's plea agreement comes at the end of a protracted pretrial process, which saw a revolving door of defense attorneys and trial dates pushed back no less than seven times. Bayford's attorney, Benjamin Darrow, declined to comment on Wednesday regarding the last-second agreement with prosecutors.
Bayford was charged in August 2017 after a Jeep Wrangler used to shuttle patrons back to Missoula from the Testicle Festival rolled on Interstate 90. Authorities said Bayford, whose breath test showed 0.209 blood-alcohol content, became upset with the driver and jerked the Jeep's steering wheel, sending the vehicle into the median.
Two passengers, 33-year-old Vannessa Anderson and 36-year-old Donny Barlow, both from Missoula, were thrown from the vehicle and declared dead at the scene. The other seven occupants of the vehicle were hospitalized.
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Darrow had contended in a court hearing in July that Bayford had been asleep at the time of the crash.
The fatal crash and dwindling attendance ultimately spelled the end of the infamous Testy Fest. Matt Powers, owner of the Rock Creek Lodge where the event was held, announced Testy Fest was gone for good in April 2018.
While the criminal case against Bayford was idling, Powers filed for bankruptcy, upending a civil case filed against Powers by a woman who survived the crash. Bayford was also named as a defendant in that case.
But in August, a federal bankruptcy judge dismissed all Powers' proceedings for failing to meet with creditors. As of Wednesday, the survivor's civil case had not been set back in motion.
Two other civil cases filed by families of Anderson and Barlow have already been decided against Rock Creek Lodge and Rock Creek Entertainment; Barlow's in April and Anderson's in May 2018. Proceedings to determine the amount of damages in those cases are yet to be scheduled.