By Tim Eberly
A Box Elder woman charged in connection with a fatal accident is asking the District Court to dismiss the case because she had been cleared to drive by Hill County sheriff's deputies earlier that night.
Melissa Moran, 27, is charged with negligent vehicular assault in a Nov. 17 crash on U.S. Highway 87 that prosecutors said contributed to the death of 71-year-old Sarah Parisian. Moran fell asleep at the wheel, allowing her vehicle to drift into the oncoming lane, prosecutors said. A blood test showed her blood alcohol after the accident was 0.12, over the legal limit of 0.10, according to a criminal complaint filed in court.
A motion filed by Moran's attorney, Carl White, said the charge should be thrown out because deputies allowed her to drive after giving her field sobriety tests hours earlier. Moran did not drink alcohol in the time between that traffic stop and the crash, said White, adding that no alcohol was found in her vehicle.
"And now, after the accident, they're saying she shouldn't have been driving," White said Tuesday.
Alcohol must a factor for a person to be charged with negligent vehicular assault, White said.
County Attorney David Rice, who has 10 days to respond to the motion, said he likely will not dismiss the charges.
"All I can say is the result is 0.12 at 4:30 in the morning," he said. "You don't get there by spending a number of hours not drinking. To me, that's the real evidence."
Moran wasn't driving her car at 1:43 a.m. on Nov. 17 when it was stopped by two sheriff's deputies on U.S. Highway 87, about eight miles south of U.S. Highway 2. Moran had asked a friend, Norman Ragels, to drive because she had consumed a few beers, White said.
Deputies Monte Reichelt and Dottie Dwyer arrested Ragels, 38, on charges of driving under the influence and failure to carry or produce proof of insurance. Another passenger in the vehicle, 28-year-old Jonas Raul Crow of Box Elder, was arrested on outstanding Justice/City Court warrants and a charge of obstructing a peace officer.
"It was her car and she was specifically not driving because she had a few beers," White said.
The deputies performed field sobriety tests on Moran, and determined she was not under the influence of alcohol, White's motion to dismiss said. They told Moran to drive another occupant of the vehicle home, the motion said.
"She did not want to be operating the vehicle," White said. "It was never her intent to drive that night."
Dwyer declined to comment. Reichelt could not be reached for comment.
Moran drove to Box Elder before returning to Havre in an attempt to post bond for Ragels at the Hill County Detention Center. After Moran was unable to post bond for Ragels, she headed back to Box Elder.
Her Chrysler LeBaron drifted into the oncoming lane and struck a northbound van three miles north of her destination, the Montana Highway Patrol has said. The accident occurred on Nov. 17 at 4:30 a.m., almost three hours after Moran's earlier contact with the deputies.
Parisian, a passenger in the van, was pronounced dead at 10:54 a.m. the next day while undergoing dialysis treatment at Benefis Health Care in Great Falls. Parisian was diabetic and suffered from heart disease. She was being driven to dialysis treatment at Northern Montana Hospital the morning of the accident.
An autopsy revealed that Parisian died from heart disease, with diabetes and a blunt force injury as contributing factors, court documents said.
Moran and Parisian were well-acquainted, Moran said Tuesday. Now employed in the administration department of the Rocky Boy School District, Moran spent a year as a supervisor for the Rocky Boy Health Board, from which Parisian received in-home health care service.
"I'm more than devastated over it," Moran said Tuesday. "It hurts a lot. She was a client. My grandparents are the most important thing to me in this world and I can only imagine how her family feels."
It was the first time Moran fell asleep while driving a vehicle, she said.
Moran was released on her own recognizance Jan. 11, the same day she was arrested. She pleaded not guilty on Jan. 18. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27. She faces up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.