A Crow Agency man with a history of drunken driving and alcohol problems admitted to a murder charge for a head-on crash that killed four people on the Crow Reservation in December 2011.
Bruce Wayne Eagleman, Jr., 25, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder before Senior U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon in Helena on Tuesday. Second-degree murder is killing with malice aforethought by behaving recklessly with extreme disregard for human life.
This was the second time Eagleman has admitted to the charge. He initially pleaded guilty in December and signed a plea agreement that called for a sentence in the range of 25 years and the dismissal of seven other counts. For a 25-year sentence, the court would have had to agree as recommended by the parties to a term shorter than a projected guideline range of 30 years to life.
Eagleman, represented by Assistant Federal Defender Mark Werner, then asked to withdraw his guilty plea, saying he didn’t have enough time to consider the deal and that there were additional witnesses who could testify for him at trial. The prosecutor opposed the request, which was granted in April by former District Judge Richard Cebull.
Eagleman was facing a jury trial next week when he decided, again, to plead guilty. The latest plea agreement does not specify a sentencing range.
Haddon set sentencing for Oct. 21 in Helena. Eagleman faces a maximum of life and a possible $250,000 fine.
Eagleman admitted he was driving drunk when he crashed his SUV head-on into an oncoming car on East Frontage Road near Dunmore on Dec. 29, 2011. About an hour after the crash, Eagleman had a blood-alcohol concentration of .257 percent, more than three times the legal limit of .08. He also tested positive for drugs.
The crash killed Marva Knows His Gun, 41, of Hardin, who was driving the car Eagleman hit; her son, Frankie Knows His Gun Jr., 17; and Corma Jefferson Fire Bear, 19, of Crow Agency. Eagleman’s passenger, Vincent Fighter Davis, 27, of Crow Agency, was alive at the scene but died a short time later.
Eagleman suffered minor injuries.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Betley said in court records that at the time of the crash, Eagleman was under orders from the Hardin City Court to participate in the 24/7 sobriety program in Big Horn County after having been arrested in November 2011 for disorderly conduct and other charges. Eagleman pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charge, admitting he had consumed a gallon of gin on the day of his arrest.
On the morning of the crash, Eagleman’s mother drove him to Hardin for a required breath test as part of the sobriety program. They returned to Crow Agency. That afternoon Eagleman took his mother’s 2006 Dodge Durango, purportedly to check the mail, Betley said.
Instead, Eagleman met Fighter Davis and the two drank four malt liquors and drove with another friend to Hardin. One of the passengers later said Eagleman was driving erratically.
Eagleman pawned a few items in Hardin and used the $10 to buy a liter of Nikolai gin, Betley said. An employee at another pawn shop Eagleman visited told investigators that he appeared intoxicated.
Eagleman and his friends stopped for gas and went to another friend’s home. Then Eagleman bought two cans of Mike’s Hard Lemonade at a local grocery store. One of his passengers got out in Hardin, and Eagleman and Fighter Davis headed back to Crow Agency.
At about 5:40 p.m., Eagleman crossed the centerline into the northbound lane, directly in front of Knows His Gun’s oncoming car. Knows His Gun made a futile attempt to avoid the crash.
Eagleman’s previous alcohol history includes a 2008 DUI conviction in Hardin City Court in which he admitted to drinking 12 24-ounce cans of beer on the day of his arrest.
Eagleman has never had a valid driver’s license.