A 27-year-old man whose pickup truck slammed head-on into a car on Interstate 90 was found guilty of negligent homicide Monday.
After deliberations that lasted about 10 hours and spanned the weekend, the District Court jury said Cory Brooks Jay was guilty of two counts of negligent homicide for the Oct. 3, 2008, deaths of David Hanson, 55, and Janice Thomas, 56.
The jury also found Jay guilty of two misdemeanor counts of negligent endangerment.
The jury rejected the more serious charges of vehicular homicide while under the influence for the deaths of Hanson and Thomas, a Missoula couple on their way home from Billings when the crash happened near the Zoo Drive exit at about 8:20 p.m.
Likewise, the jury found Jay guilty of the misdemeanors, which are lesser included charges of the more serious crime of felony criminal endangerment.
Prosecutors charged Jay with the alternative counts of negligent homicide, which carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Vehicular homicide carries a possible 30-year prison sentence.
The verdicts ended a trial that began Dec. 7 before Judge Susan Watters. Deliberations began about 4 p.m. Friday, but the jurors were sent home shortly before 11 p.m. after they said they were unable to reach a verdict.
The jury reconvened Monday at 9 a.m., and they announced that they had reached a verdict shortly before 11 a.m.
Jay showed little reaction when the verdicts were read. He was returned to the county jail to await sentencing, which was tentatively set for Feb. 25. His bond remains at $75,000.
Jay, from Texas, was among many witnesses who testified at the trial. He said he drank two or three beers in the hours before the crash, but he could not explain why his truck left the westbound lanes of the highway, crossed the median into the eastbound lanes and nearly hit two other motorists before it slammed into the car driven by Hanson.
Hanson and Thomas died at the scene.
On cross-examination, Jay admitted that he could have consumed as many as six beers before the crash, but his lawyers argued that the amount of alcohol did not explain what caused the crash. Jay said he had no recollection of the moments before the crash.
Experts testified that Jay’s blood alcohol level was somewhere between 0.07 and 0.08 percent. The test was performed on a sample of Jay’s blood serum, and not a whole-blood sample as is more common.
As a result, Jay’s blood alcohol level was open to interpretation by experts who said different methods are used to convert blood serum alcohol levels to whole-blood alcohol levels.
Prosecutors argued during closing statements Friday that Jay was clearly under the influence of alcohol when his truck crossed into oncoming traffic and continued for about a fifth of a mile before the collision. The crash crushed the Chrysler Sebring, killing Hanson immediately. Medics were unable to save Thomas.
“He chose to drink, to drive, to cause death,” Deputy County Attorney Victoria Callender told jurors.
Jay suffered a broken back and foot in the crash. His public defenders argued that Jay must have passed out or suffered a seizure that caused him to lose control of the Ford F-150 pickup truck.
Deputy public defender Matt Claus told jurors that prosecutors had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Jay was under the influence of alcohol. The amount of alcohol found in Jay’s blood does not explain why the crash happened, Claus said.
“So what happened here?” Claus asked during his closing statement. “I wish I could tell you. My client wishes he could tell you. The best evidence seems to indicate he lost consciousness.”
Contact Greg Tuttle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1320.