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Felony negligence charges have been filed against two men who the Stillwater County prosecutor says played roles in an accident south of Columbus in December that killed a woman and injured a teenager.

Charles McAdams, of Billings, and Ray Lee, of Boulder, are each charged with felony criminal endangerment. Documents filed July 13 in Stillwater County District Court state the Dec. 8, 2000, accident on Highway 78 that killed Jonne Risenhoover, 55, and injured then-19-year-old Shasta Harcsa, was due in part to actions by McAdams, a bus driver, and Lee, who was driving a pickup. Riesenhoover and Harcsa were both from Absarokee.

Montana Highway Patrol Officer Jeremy Lee’s investigation showed that McAdams failed to close a side compartment door on the Rimrock States bus he was driving with Stillwater Mine employees, according to the affidavit. The investigation also showed that Ray Lee was speeding along Highway 78 when he met the bus.

According to court documents: Lee met the bus with its side compartment door open ––– when the door was full open the bus was a foot wider than its travel lane and the door extended into oncoming traffic. Lee swerved to the right to avoid the bus, hit the shoulder and attempted to correct his GMC Sierra then lost control due to speed. Lee collided with Risenhoover’s Ford Aspire, which was directly behind the bus, and involved Harcsa’s car, which was behind Risenhoover.

Risenhoover died in the accident. Harcsa needed to be extricated from the Saturn she was driving and was taken by helicopter to a Billings hospital. Lee was also injured and was taken to Stillwater Community Hospital. All three were alone in their vehicles and wearing seatbelts, according to MHP reports at the time.

Lee and McAdams are scheduled to appear Aug. 6 before District Court Judge Blair Jones. A Stillwater Justice Court clerk said Friday that McAdams and Lee have not made an initial appearance in that court.

‘Substantial risk’The affidavit accuses both men of knowing Highway 78 is narrow and winding and sets a foundation to prove that Lee’s speed and McAdams knowing a door was open on the bus caused “substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury” as outlined in the criminal endangerment law.

MHP Officer Jeremy Lee told The Gazette in December that Ray Lee was driving between 71 and 80 mph. The affidavit states that McAdams knowingly drove the bus with its side door open and “protruding outward” about three feet while driving Highway 78.

Witnesses said they were passed by Lee’s pickup and about a mile later came on the pickup involved in the accident, which occurred about 8 miles south of Columbus, according to the affidavit. The driver behind Lee when the accident happened told officers Lee had to swerve to miss the door on the bus and lost control of his pickup.

After the accident, McAdams told a MHP officer that when he left Billings that day he noticed the door was open. McAdams told the officer he checked the door and that the cooling unit on the bus had pushed the door open, according to the affidavit. McAdams said he shoved the unit back in the compartment until a pin locked and dropped the door into position. McAdams said he periodically checked the door and about half way to Absarokee noticed it was open again, it states. McAdams told the officer he turned on the bus’s flashing lights until he could find a place wide enough to pull over.

Drivers on Highway 78 that day told investigators that they had to swerve to the right to miss the door on the bus.

In April, officers interviewed a man who was a passenger on the bus. The man told officers that he had noticed a door on the driver’s side of the bus looked ajar or open when he boarded. As one of the last passengers to board the bus, the man said he told McAdams about the door and that McAdams acknowledged a problem with the door, according to the affidavit. The man said other passengers had also told McAdams about the door.

Becky Shay can be reached at 657-1231 or at bshay@billingsgazette.com.

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