Driver pleads not guilty in girl's death

Jul 6, 2012 By Christina George, Staff Writer

William Dean Barnes of Lander, charged with being the driver who struck and killed a Crowheart girl exiting a school bus at her home in December, has pleaded non guilty pleas to the charges.

During his 10-minute arraignment Thursday in Lander District Court, Judge Norman E. Young set Barnes's trial for Nov. 12.

Barnes, represented by Lander attorney Devon Petersen, faces an aggravated vehicular homicide charge. Authorities say he drove his 2005 GMC pickup truck in a reckless manner with his conduct being the proximate cause of 11-year-old Makayla Marie Strahle's death on Dec. 20. He was 52 years old at the time of the crash.

The felony charge further alleges that Barnes drove too fast for conditions in fog, failed to stop for a stopped school bus, and failed to exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian.

He also faces misdemeanor charges of homicide by vehicle, driving too fast for conditions, passing a stopped school bus with flashing red lights, and failing to exercise due care as a driver.

At the July 5 hearing, Young continued Barnes's $2,500 unsecured bond that was set during his February initial appearance. During that hearing, he was represented by defense attorney Michael S. Messenger of Thermopolis but has since retained Petersen.

According to charging documents, at about 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 20, the Lander man was traveling 57 mph eastbound on U.S. Highway 26 when he struck the Wind River School sixth-grader as she was crossing the road to her home after exiting the school bus. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The coroner ruled the cause of death as blunt-force trauma.

Although there was heavy fog reported that evening, Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers who responded to the incident reported conditions at the scene to be mostly clear, with road conditions being dry.

The felony charge carries a 20-year prison sentence. Barnes faces additional jail time and fines if found guilty of the four misdemeanors.

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