Butte woman pleads guilty to vehicular homicide

Thursday, March 25, 2021
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A Butte woman tearfully admitted to causing the death of a passenger in her vehicle by driving drunk and on marijuana last summer on I-90.

Sunday Gardner-Ard, 45, appeared in 22nd Judicial District Court last Thursday via video from the Gallatin County Jail and tearfully admitted to stealing a car from a relative in Butte, picking up hitchhiker Jerry Lee Deal and then killing Deal when she rolled the vehicle on I-90 in Stillwater County on July 15, 2020.

Deal was a 57-year-old Morgensen, N.C.

Gardner-Ard’s blood alcohol content was tested at .198 and she also had marijuana in her system at the time of the crash. Investigators believe that Gardner-Ard was travelling 106 mph when she lost control of a car, according to court documents.

When asked if she was responsible for the death of the hitchhiker that she had picked up, Gardner-Ard became even more emotional.

“Yes,” she said, crying harder..

She will be sentenced on felony charges of vehicular homicide and felony theft in May under the terms of plea agreement.


At 9:25 p.m. on July 15, 2020, a motorist called 911 to report a single-vehicle crash in the eastbound lane of I-90, near mile marker 407.

Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Brennen Plucker arrived on scene to find several Stillwater County Sheriff’s deputies and Columbus Rescue Fire crews on scene with a crashed 2009 Pontiac G6, according to court documents. Trooper Plucker saw tire marks west of the crash site that left the road to the south, and a large amount of debris on the hill to the south.

The trooper noted that there was damage to all sides of the vehicle and that the rear side tire was missing. The roof of the occupant compartment was crushed down to the bottom of the windows and “it was skewed to the driver’s side,” according to court documents.

The passenger had been seatbelted, but the belt was cut when firefighters removed his body. A medical examiner determined the passenger — a man — died of positional asphyxia and blunt force injuries sustained in the crash, according to court documents.

Gardner-Ard was removed from the vehicle and placed in an ambulance and taken to the Stillwater Billings Clinic.

Troopers, deputies and EMS workers were searching the surrounding area and hillside as Gardner-Ard initially said that three people had been in the car. Among the debris were children’s toys and clothing.

When interviewed about the crash the following day, Gardner-Ard told the trooper that she did not know the man in the car with her and that she had picked him up hitchhiking near Butte.

When asked what caused the crash, she said, “they hit something and then wrecked,” according to court documents.

She was unable to remember anything else about the crash.

She refused a voluntary blood sample, but one was drawn after the trooper obtained a warrant — partially based on her two prior DUI convictions. In addition to alcohol, that blood test also showed 6.8 ml of Lorazepam and the presence of Mirtazapine.

Other motorists estimated Gardner-Ard was travelling approximately 95 mph on the night of the crash. One motorist said she sped past her and then lost control on the rumble strips and crashed.

An accident re-creation investigation conducted by MHP revealed that she was travelling as fast as 106 mph as she tried to pass another vehicle in the seconds leading up to the crash, then hit her brakes for one second, according to court documents.

Investigators also learned that earlier in the day, Gardner-Ard had been with family members in Butte and while at the YMCA, police were called when Gardner-Ard reportedly became angry and yelled at family members and others while drinking what was believed to be alcohol in a Gatorade bottle, according to court documents.

Before police arrived, she stole a family member’s car.