Helena mayor and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Wilmot Collins admitted Tuesday to rear-ending another vehicle last week but pleaded not guilty to leaving the scene of the crash.
Collins told Lewis and Clark County Justice of the Peace Mike Swingley that his foot slipped off the brake but he believed he caught it before hitting the vehicle in front of him. Not believing he had struck the vehicle, he drove off but was then flagged down by the other driver who honked at him and they pulled into a parking lot. There, he observed damage to the other vehicle consisting of "two small black circles," he said.
Collins was fined $50 plus a $35 surcharge for careless driving. No trial date has been set on the remaining charge. Both charges are misdemeanors.
Kimberly Doherty, a 35-year-old Butte woman, reported a "hit-and-run" crash around 6:42 p.m. May 20. Doherty told Helena police she was driving southbound on Last Chance Gulch before stopping to turn left onto Lyndale Avenue, when she was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by Collins.
Doherty told police she pulled over as Collins continued west on Lyndale. She later told the Independent Record she followed him while honking her horn, and they both pulled into the Van's Thriftway parking lot in the 300 block of Euclid Avenue.
Collins provided his business card to Doherty and then left, police reported. Doherty told the Independent Record she waited in the Van's parking lot for around an hour before Helena police officers arrived to take her statement.
Police met with Collins later that night, and the case was forwarded to the Lewis and Clark County Attorney's Office due to a conflict of interest with the Helena City Attorney's Office.
Collins released a statement Friday afternoon that gave his version of the incident.
"On the evening of May 20th (I) made a mistake. I was at the stop light at Euclid and Last Chance, when I accidentally nudged the back of a car that was stopped in front of me. The contact was so light that I did not realize I had made contact with the other vehicle," Collins wrote.
Collins said the other driver honked at him to flag him down, and they both pulled into the Van's parking lot.
"I gave her my card and told her I would pay for any damage to the vehicle at any repair shop of her choice," Collins wrote. "I followed up with the woman whose car I damaged the next day to see if she had gotten a chance to assess the damage or book an appointment to repair her vehicle and she had not yet had a chance to book an appointment."
Collins said he sat in the Van's parking lot and watched the other driver leave.
Doherty told the Independent Record she remembers it differently.
"I called after he gave me his business card, as he was driving out of the parking lot," Doherty said. "I said we had to call law enforcement and that we had to stay."
Collins said he stood by his account when asked about the Doherty's version of events.