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Trial starts Tuesday for man whose truck hit sixth-grader

Nov 11, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Trial starts Tuesday for the Lander man charged with being the driver who struck and killed an 11-year-old girl exiting a school bus at her home last December.

Fremont County Attorney Brian Varn said jury selection for William Dean Barnes's trial begins Tuesday morning with trial possibly starting around 2:30 p.m. the same day. In an e-mail, Varn said the actual trial likely will last two days but could easily go to three.

Barnes in July pleaded not guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide charges that he drove his 2005 GMC pickup truck in a reckless manner with his conduct being the proximate cause of Makayla Marie Strahle's death on Dec. 20.

Barnes was 52 years old at the time of the crash.

The felony charge further alleges 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.

According to charging documents, at about 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 20, Barnes 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 near Crowheart after exiting the school bus.

The trial was nearly postponed after District Court Judge Norman E. Young at a hearing on Thursday gave Barnes that option in light of argument concerning an expert witness.

Later that day the court was informed there would not be a continuance.

Expert witness

Barnes's defense attorney Devon Petersen and Fremont County deputy attorney Kathy Kavanagh on Thursday hammered out a few more details concerning next week's trial.

They discussed a motion filed by Petersen concerning a witness the state intends to call at the trial. Specifically, prosecutors want Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper Brian Bragonier to testify about the crash data retrieval system that is attached to vehicles and provides data about events such as crashes.

Petersen said Bragonier was listed as an expert witness to testify about the system on Barnes's pickup truck.

Petersen said it was his belief in previous proceedings that Bragonier wasn't to testify as an expert. Petersen voiced concern that some questions such as how the data system works would need to be answered.

Kavanagh said her plan wasn't to call Bragonier to testify about technical aspects of the system. She said her intent was to have the trooper speak about downloading the information from the system on Barnes's truck and the results.

"I don't know how it could get any plainer," Kavanagh told the court.

Data machine

She said she listed Bragonier as an expert because he has experience downloading data from the system. She said the two pieces of information that will be discussed are the speed Barnes was traveling at the time of the collision and if the brakes were applied.

Petersen said there would be questions about how the machine produced the information.

"How did that number get there?" he asked as an example.

Young said Bragonier was only listed in documents as an expert witness once.

"I've been confused several times with this particular issue," he told counsel.

Young said Bragonier could testify as an expert witness at trial. Given the decision to allow Bragonier testify as an expert, Young said he would grant a continuance if Barnes felt it was needed to assure a fair trial.

"This is a pretty big deal," he told Barnes. "It's a really big deal."

Young said he acknowledged that he was partially at fault because he normally doesn't require the state to list witnesses as experts in pre-trial documents.

"I've created part of the problem here," he said, adding that he plans to change the process.

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