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Driver in fatal Crowheart accident faces felony charge

Feb 16, 2012 - By Christina George Staff Writer

The Lander man charged with being the driver who struck and killed an 11-year-old Crowheart girl made his first court appearance Tuesday.

Lander Circuit Court Judge Robert B. Denhardt set a $2,500 unsecured bond for 52-year-old William Dean Barnes and scheduled a preliminary hearing for March 5.

More than half a dozen family members sat quietly in court as Barnes and his defense attorney, Michael S. Messenger of Thermopolis listened to Denhardt read through the charges that were filed against Barnes on Jan. 23.

Dec. 20 collision

Barnes faces aggravated vehicular homicide for allegedly driving his 2005 GMC pickup truck in a reckless manner with his conduct being the proximate cause of MaKayla Marie Strahle's death Dec. 20.

The felony charge further alleges Barnes drove too fast for conditions, failed to stop for a stopped school bus and failed to exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian.

Barnes faces four misdemeanor charges of homicide by vehicle, driving too fast for conditions, passing a stopped school bus with flashing red lights and failing to exercise due care as a driver.

According to charging documents, Barnes was traveling 57 mph eastbound on U.S. Highway 26 when he struck the Wind River School sixth-grader as she was crossing the roadway after exiting the school bus. The collision occurred at about 7:30 p.m., roughly five miles east of Crowheart.

In an affidavit, Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Erik D. Shoden said conditions at the scene were mostly clear, with road conditions dry, although there was heavy fog reported that evening in the area.

MaKayla Strahle was pronounced dead at the scene. The coroner ruled the cause of death as blunt-force trauma.

Tuesday's court proceedings lasted roughly 10 minutes.

County deputy attorney Kathy Kavanagh requested the unsecured bond, saying Barnes voluntarily appeared at the hearing after being summoned, and that he's been cooperative throughout the investigation.

Bond conditions

After accepting Kavanagh's argument, Denhardt outlined bond conditions that included Barnes not leaving the state without permission from the court. Messenger told Denhardt that Barnes and his family had made arrangements to travel to Alabama in March to build a Habitat for Humanity house in memory of his late nephew.

Connor R. Mercer, 17, of Lubbock, Texas, was killed after a hit-and-run accident Oct. 30.

Barnes requested permission to leave Wyoming from March 11 to March 19 to do the project. Denhardt did not render a decision on the request in court.

The felony charge carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Barnes could face up to 14 months in jail and fines if found guilty of the four misdemeanors.

The preliminary hearing is set for 5 p.m. March 5. However, it will likely be delayed because Messenger told the court he plans to file a motion to waive his client's right to a speedy preliminary hearing.

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