A 23-year-old Billings man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to felony vehicular homicide in the death of a baby boy delivered after his mother was seriously injured in a crash.
Matthew Murray Kewitt appeared for arraignment before Judge Russell Fagg, accompanied by his parents and attorney Michael Moses. Kewitt spoke softly during his brief court appearance, where he also pleaded not guilty to an alternative charge of negligent homicide and a third count of negligent vehicular assault.
The charges stem the death of Ryeli Kline-Embry, who died nine days after his mother, 19-year-old Alyssa Kline, was seriously injured March 7 in a collision near the intersection of Central Avenue and Florine Lane. Kline was seven months pregnant, and the baby was delivered by emergency Caesarean section.
Prosecutors allege that Kewitt was under the influence of marijuana while driving a company pickup truck at the time of the crash. Prosecutors say the crash happened when the truck turned left on Central Avenue across a double yellow line and hit Kline's passenger car.
Kewitt was arrested recently in California while crossing the border with Mexico. After Kewitt entered his pleas on Tuesday, Deputy County Attorney David Carter asked Fagg to order Kewitt to surrender his passport.
Moses told the judge that Kewitt does not have a passport. He said that on the day of his arrest, Kewitt spent the day in Mexico with friends and was returning to the United States when he was arrested at the border.
Kewitt posted a $25,000 bond in California after his arrest, Moses said, and he appeared voluntarily for arraignment with the support of his parents, who watched the proceeding from the courtroom audience.
After receiving assurance from Moses that Kewitt had no plans for travel outside the country while the criminal case is pending, Fagg agreed to maintain Kewitt's bond at $25,000.
In July, Kline's mother, Toni Stone, filled a civil lawsuit against Kewitt and his employer, Duke Cherpeski, who owns Duke's Concrete Construction Co. The lawsuit alleges negligence and malicious conduct and seeks unspecified damages. A recent motion to dismiss the case filed by attorneys representing Cherpeski was denied by Judge Ingrid Gustafson.
Family of accident victims sues - 7/19/08
Accident victim transferred - 4/3/08
Wreck victim's name released - 3/19/08
Baby delivered after auto accident dies - 3/18/08
Mother, baby in critical condition - 3/12/08