Billings man admits causing death of friend in DUI crash

2012-09-27T11:57:00Z 2012-09-28T00:33:14Z Billings man admits causing death of friend in DUI crashBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A Billings man who ran away from the scene of a fatal crash as his friend bled to death admitted to charges Thursday in District Court.

Justin Dale Kiger, 24, appeared before Judge Susan Watters and pleaded guilty to felony charges of negligent homicide, failure to remain at the scene of an accident and tampering with evidence.

Kiger admitted that he was driving drunk last Dec. 4 when he crashed into a building on Central Avenue and caused the death of his friend and passenger, Jack Ryan Harris.

Kiger also admitted that he fled the scene of the crash and later tried to conceal bloody clothing.

A plea agreement states that prosecutors will ask that Kiger be sentenced as a persistent felony offender to 15 years at Montana State Prison, with five years suspended, for the homicide charge.

The agreement states the prosecution will recommend the judge impose concurrent sentences of 10 years for fleeing the crash, and five years for the tampering charge. The persistent felony offender designation carries a possible sentence enhancement on each charge of up to 100 years in prison.

Kiger's public defender will be free to request a lesser sentence, including a recommendation from the judge for a state boot camp program.

Watters set a tentative sentencing date of Dec. 13.

Kiger remains in the county jail on a $100,000 bond. Watters on Thursday rejected a request from Kiger to reduce his bond to $15,000.

Deputy County Attorney David Carter said he opposed the request for a reduced bond and told the judge that Kiger "stood over his friend, who was bleeding out, and fled the scene."

Kiger then ran to Harris' residence, where he was staying, and did not tell Harris' wife what had happened, Carter said.

Harris was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, which happened at about 1 a.m. when Kiger drove a 1999 Ford Mustang into the GT Plumbing and Mechanic building at 1402 Central Ave.

Officers found bloody footprints at the scene of the crash, and learned that the car was registered to Harris' wife, who lived at an apartment on Industrial Avenue.

Witnesses said Kiger and Harris were together at a downtown bar in the hours before the crash.

Kiger has a criminal history that includes a felony conviction in 2011 and a misdemeanor DUI in 2010. He was on felony probation serving a six-year deferred sentence at the time of the crash.     

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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