A 40-year-old Deer Lodge man who left the scene of a fatal crash near Potomac early Saturday morning while the victim was still breathing has been charged with negligent homicide in Missoula County Justice Court.
Steven Clay Betts is accused of causing the crash that killed Mickaele Durgini, 50, of Seattle, and then leaving the scene of the collision, which he did not report for approximately 10 hours. The crash occurred just past mile marker 21 on Montana Highway 200, three miles east of Potomac.
Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jason Marks told Justice of the Peace Karen Orzech that Betts has since been "very cooperative" with the investigation, providing a sworn statement to highway patrol troopers and consenting to a search of his pickup truck, which he abandoned at the scene.
Betts, who has family in Missoula, appeared for his initial court hearing with attorney Wayne Svaren and will remain released on a $5,000 property bond. He'll be allowed to travel to Utah, where he works for an oil drilling outfit.
According to charging papers, Betts' pickup truck crossed the center line and crashed head-on into Durgini's pickup. Both men were lone occupants of their trucks, and Durgini was fully within the westbound lane at the time of the crash.
Betts called his fiance later in the day and she drove him to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula. He also contacted the Montana Highway Patrol, and Trooper Eli Wolfe interviewed him at the hospital. Betts said he'd suffered a concussion and did not remember the crash, which was called in around 2:45 a.m. on Saturday by motorists who came upon the wreckage.
He also signed a form releasing his hospital records to investigators.
Trooper Wolfe was the first officer on the scene, and found Durgini pinned inside the Ford F-150. Betts was already gone, having apparently walked away from his Dodge pickup truck. The victim was still alive but died before he could be cut free from the truck, records state.
During an interview with investigators, Betts admitted that he was driving his pickup truck eastbound on Highway 200 on his way to visit his fiance in Lewistown. He said he'd been drinking at three different bars in the Missoula area before setting out for Lewistown, but added that he did not drink very much and was not intoxicated.
Deputy County Attorney Marks said the details of where Betts went after the crash and how he got there are still being investigated and he could not comment.
Betts faces a maximum punishment of 20 years in the Montana State Prison and a $50,000 fine for the felony charge.
The Montana Highway Patrol is still investigating the incident and would like to speak with any witnesses who may have had contact with Betts on the evening of April 30 or in the early morning hours of May 1, either prior to the crash or in the hours immediately afterward.
Contact Trooper Eli Wolfe at (406) 529-3238, Sgt. Shane Grimes at (406) 531-3612, or the Montana Highway Patrol office at (406) 329-1500.