Prosecutor weighs charges in boat crash
September 2, 2009
MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
The Flathead County prosecutor says he is awaiting evidence from the boat crash that injured U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and four others before deciding whether to file charges against the vessel's driver, state Sen. Greg Barkus. The high-speed crash late Thursday night left the boat perched atop a steep rock outcropping. All five occupants were injured and one, Rehberg's state director Dustin Frost, remains hospitalized with a serious brain injury. Authorities are using subpoenas to retrieve key evidence, such as the blood alcohol level of Barkus, a Kalispell Republican. "We are not yet To a point where we can decide what charges, if any, to bring against Mr. Barkus," said County Attorney Ed Corrigan. "But we are certainly not looking at any charges against Rep. Rehberg, since he was just a passenger of that boat, or any other passengers for that matter." Corrigan said he is focused on whether there is some basis for "significant felony charges" against the driver. The boat passengers had been at a dinner and were using the boat to get back to their resort on the other side of the lake. An initial offense report provided to The Associated Press by the Flathead County sheriff on Tuesday sheds little light on the case. It says the emergency call came in at 10:24 p.m. Deputy Phillip Greer says he arrived on the scene with another officer to find the boat completely out of the water lying vertically wedged between two rocks. An unnamed woman in the boat was receiving medical care, and four others near the water's edge needed help, too. It also says the passengers were asked who was driving the boat, and they pointed to an unnamed male down near the water. Barkus was later identified as the driver. Corrigan said a decision on charges could come rather quickly if evidence is gathered without a legal fight from Barkus. The sheriff's office earlier said a search warrant had been executed Monday on the boat. The Barkuses have hired an attorney, and no blood alcohol level has been released for the driver. Rehberg's office has said the congressman's blood-alcohol level was 0.05 at least three hours after the crash, below the legal limit for a driver. But they are stressing he was not driving. Kathy Barkus said her husband remained in the intensive care unit of the Kalispell hospital Monday. She was released from the hospital Monday along with Rehberg and congressional staffer Kristen Smith. Frost suffered a serious brain injury and has been sedated since the crash.