A 23-year-old Missoula man pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony count of criminal endangerment for his role in a high-speed street racing crash that killed one man and injured four others in August 2008.
Matthew Thomas Chase was prepared to go to trial next week on a host of felony charges relating to the Aug. 5 wreck near Turah, which killed 25-year-old Jacob Leroy Bailey, of Clinton, and put a woman in a coma. The seven felonies included criminal endangerment, evidence tampering and leaving the scene of an injury or accident.
On Wednesday, Chase accepted a plea agreement that dismisses all but one felony count of criminal endangerment and does not call for any prison time.
Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jennifer Clark said the investigation revealed that both drivers were engaged in reckless behavior when the wreck occurred. The victim's blood alcohol content was found to be a 0.2, investigators reported, which is more than twice the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle.
Witnesses told investigators that Chase had been drinking, too, but he was not located until the day after the crash, after Turah Pines Bar patrons helped identified him to law enforcement.
When investigators arrived at the crash scene along Old Highway 10 near mile marker 4, they found Bailey slumped over the driver's seat of his 2008 Subaru SVI. A 19-year-old woman was unconscious in the back seat, while another man was lying on the ground outside the car. Two other teenage girls sat on the roadside bleeding. The teens told investigators that they were drag racing with a guy named "Matt," who they had met that night while drinking at the Turah Pines Bar, according to charging documents.
The victims said "Matt" had cut them off and that Bailey lost control of the Subaru, which soared off a steep embankment, severed three trees and smashed against a large boulder, according to Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Sean Finley. Bailey was wearing his seat belt at the time of the collision, as were some, but not all, of the passengers.
Finley said speed and alcohol were both factors in the accident, and said the two cars were racing at speeds that exceeded 100 mph. When authorities located Chase, he initially denied racing the Subaru, but eventually admitted to his involvement in the street race.
Plea negotiations were ongoing for some time, with Chase finally accepting an agreement that calls for a 10-year commitment to the Department of Corrections, all suspended, with a requirement that he complete the Intensive Supervision Program.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 9 before District Judge Ed McLean.