By Tim Eberly
The Hill County Attorney's Office today charged a Box Elder woman with negligent vehicular assault in connection with a car crash prosecutors say contributed to an elderly woman's death.
Prosecutors allege in court documents that Melissa Moran, 26, was driving while intoxicated on Nov. 17 before she fell asleep at the wheel and swerved into an oncoming vehicle.
Sarah Parisian, 71, was a passenger in the vehicle that was struck. She was pronounced dead at 10:54 a.m. the next day while undergoing dialysis treatment at Benefis Health Care in Great Falls, where she was helicoptered after the accident.
Moran faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted. An arraignment has not been set.
The injuries Parisian suffered were not the cause of her death but contributed to it, County Attorney David Rice said today. If the autopsy had shown that Parisian's death stemmed from the injuries suffered in the accident, Rice said, he would have charged Moran with negligent homicide, a charge that carries a 20-year prison sentence.
Because Parisian had previous health problems she was diabetic and had heart problems an autopsy was conducted in Great Falls to determine the exact cause of her death. The autopsy revealed that Parisian died from heart disease, with diabetes and a blunt force injury as the contributing factors, the criminal complaint said. She also had two broken bones in her right leg, one in her left leg and numerous minor injuries.
Blood tests showed Moran had a blood-alcohol content of 0.12. The legal limit in Montana is 0.10. Moran told a Montana Highway Patrol officer she fell asleep three miles north of the accident site, the criminal complaint said. She was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from her vehicle. She was found in a ditch near her car, court documents said. Moran was hospitalized in the intensive care unit of Northern Montana Hospital, the highway patrol said.
The accident happened three miles north of Box Elder on U.S Highway 87 about 4:30 a.m. Moran's Chrysler LeBaron hit a 2000 Chevrolet Astro van driven by 73-year-old Donald Meyers.
During her interview with the Montana Highway Patrol, Moran said she woke up and saw headlights coming at her, according to the criminal complaint. The next thing she remembered, she said, was lying on the ground after the accident.
Moran told the highway patrol that she'd left the Hill County Detention Center at 3 a.m. that morning.
Rice said Moran had gone there to provide bond for someone else. Earlier that evening, Moran had been in a vehicle that was pulled over by law enforcement authorities, said Rice.
"She was in a car that was earlier stopped, so when she showed up in the wreck, they recognized her," Rice said.
Prior to providing law enforcement officers with a sample of her blood, Moran said she had consumed three to five beers between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., according to the criminal complaint.
Meyers, a part-time driver for the Chippewa Cree Tribal Health Board, was driving Parisian to Northern Montana Hospital for kidney dialysis, which she received three times a week.
Meyers blinked his headlights at Moran, then turned his steering wheel sharply left when Moran did not correct her steering. The right front side of Moran's vehicle struck the right side of Meyer's van. Neither vehicle overturned but both came to rest in ditches on the opposite sides of their intended lanes.
Meyers suffered a broken bone in his right leg. Both Parisian and Meyers had their seat belts fastened. Meyers used his cell phone to call 911. Parisian was trapped inside the vehicle until emergency medical technicians arrived on the scene.