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An Arizona man accused of causing the death of a Billings woman two years ago in a two-vehicle accident on Interstate 90 will be charged with negligent homicide, Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos said Thursday.

Whether a judge allows the charge to be filed and the case to be heard at trial is another issue, Paxinos said.

The decision to file the criminal charge against 23-year-old Kevin Sievers follows a one-day coroner's inquest held May 24. At the conclusion of the hearing, a seven-member jury unanimously agreed that the death of Linda Ferrel on Aug. 19, 2004, was the result of criminal negligence.

The jury's finding was an advisory verdict only, however, and the final decision on whether any charge would be filed remained with the county attorney.

Paxinos said Sievers will be charged as early as next week.

Sievers is accused of causing the fatal accident when he fell asleep while driving an eastbound pickup truck that crossed the median near the 27th Street interchange and slammed into Ferrel's car in the westbound lane. The accident happened at about 4:15 p.m.

Ferrel, 48, died at the scene. Sievers, who was driving up to 400 miles a day for a meat company, was seriously injured. He resides in Arizona and did not participate at the coroner's inquest.

Paxinos said no specific statute or case law in Montana addresses a fatality that results from a driver who falls asleep at the wheel. The legal standard that must be reached to prove guilt is high in a criminal case even when it involves a death caused by drunken driver, he said.

The negligent-homicide charge against Sievers is likely to be challenged immediately, Paxinos said. A judge could decide that the charge is not supported by state law and refuse to allow it to be filed at the time of arraignment.

Ferrel's widower, Don Ferrel, has launched a campaign for new laws to hold accountable those who injure or kill other motorists when driving while drowsy.

Contact Greg Tuttle at gtuttle@billingsgazette.com or 657-1320.

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