No one hung a new angel on the tree meant to remember the deaths of DUI accident victims, despite the death of 31-year-old Jashua James Fry.
The man suspected of killing Fry was still pending trial Thursday when law enforcement and justice officials met in the Yellowstone County Courthouse to honor DUI victims.
Kent Roderick Jensen, 19, was charged in July with negligent vehicular homicide after investigators alleged he smoked marijuana before a car accident resulting in Fry’s death. Because the case is still pending at the time of the tree ceremony, Fry’s name could not be added.
Jensen has plead not guilty to the charges.
Instead of adding a new angel, the Yellowstone County DUI Task Force focused on the achievements the many agencies involved have accomplished over the past 42 years.
The first Angel Tree was in 1974 when Yellowstone County recognized 18 victims. During the first 10 years of the task force, Yellowstone County added a total of 114 names to the tree.
Over the next 31 years, Yellowstone County would add 148 additional names.
In the last 10 years, 15 DUI victims have died in Yellowstone County.
Yellowstone Deputy County Attorney Morgan Shaw, who represents the prosecutor’s office on the task force, also noted the decrease in the number of DUI cases being prosecuted by Yellowstone County. In 2010, the office prosecuted about 10,000 cases. In 2015, the office prosecuted about half that. The reduction shows that more DUIs are being prevented, Shaw said.
Every year the DUI task force recognizes the work of law enforcement and local community members who help to combat the problem of DUIs in the county. Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Kirk Robbins made 67 DUI arrests between January and November of this year and was recognized for his commitment to combating DUI and drug offenses. Robbins joined the Montana Highway Patrol about three years ago.
Laurel Police Department School Resource Officer Fred Gregory was recognized for the 10 DUI arrests he made between January and November of this year. While presenting the award, Shaw said the number may seem small, but as a school resource officer, Gregory doesn’t work the average patrol. He made the majority of his DUI arrests in the morning near schools.
Yellowstone County Sheriff Deputy Aaron Harris made 35 DUI arrests through January and November of this year. Harris’ wife, Kelly Harris, accepted the award on behalf of her husband who was at a training. Much of the DUI paperwork comes home with her husband, Kelly Harris said. Aaron Harris was a paramedic for 13 years before joining law enforcement, Kelly Harris said.
“He saw it from the other end,” Kelly Harris said. “I think he wanted to alter those outcomes.”
City Cab owner Rodney Willson was also honored. Willson died in August of this year, so his wife, Teresa Willson, and their four children accepted the award on his behalf. Willson was an early member of the DUI task force and worked to provide cab services to events where alcohol was provided.
Depending on the outcome of Jensen’s trial, Fry, who was a father of five and engaged to be married, might be recognized next year. Fry died on March 7 when he was struck by a car while riding his motorcycle eastbound on South Frontage Road.
In his obituary, Fry’s family wrote that he died doing what he loved: “Riding his motorcycle.”