Suspended sentence in double-fatality tow truck case

Families say it’s not justice
Thursday, November 11, 2021
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Reed Point resident William Casie Allen (on the left) and Billings resident Nicholas Ryan Visser.

The Utah motorist who hit and killed two Hanser’s tow truck drivers a year ago on I-90 pleaded “no contest” to misdemeanor careless driving and was given a 6-month suspended jail sentence Monday afternoon in Stillwater County Justice Court, following emotional testimony from the families.

Carlyn Samuel Jessop, 19, sat with his head down as family members of William Casie Allen and Nicholas Ryan Visser gave emotional victim impact statements. All of those family members questioned the justice of two lives lost and a misdemeanor charge.

Several members of Jessop’s family sat on one side of the courtroom, while family of Allen and Visser sat on the other.

The only words Jessop said were “No contest, your honor.”

Stillwater Deputy County Attorney Ryan Addis read an “offer of proof,” which is essentially the facts of the case that Jessop believed a jury would have believed.

Addis requested a 6-month suspended sentence and a $1,000 fine, taking into consideration the nature of the incident, Jessop’s young age and the fact that he did not have any criminal history.

The defense attorney wanted a 6-month deferred sentence and a $1,000 fine, arguing that it had been a tragic accident and that he did not think the prosecution should have been allowed to even file the criminal charge. The defense attorney also said that Jessop comes from a “very religious, fundamental” family. A deferred sentence would have allowed Jessop the chance to have the charge removed from his record.

“These are difficult cases,” said Justice of the Peace Lee Cornell before sentencing, noting that he had spent 30 years in law enforcement and seven years as a judge.

Judge Cornell also noted that he understood why Jessop could not make a statement, due to any possible pending civil litigation.

The judge also called the incident an accident, but said the combined factors of Jessop’s heavy vehicle, icy roads, poor visibility and little to no sleep had impacts.

VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS

Peggy (Visser) Mathiason is Nick Visser’s mother and was the first to deliver a heartwrenching victim impact statement. She spoke of the needless deaths and of her “disappointment and confusion” with the “relatively benign charge,” considering Jessop had reported been on the road for 24 hours with no sleep and was driving in hazardous conditions.

“But this. This seems so unjust,” said Mathiason.

She continued to say that she does not advocate “an eye for an eye,” and then stunned the courtroom,

“I do not hate Mr. Jessop...I’m not even angry with him,” said Mathiason.

She then requested Judge Lee Cornell’s permission to speak directly to Jessop.

“I do not hate you and I am not here to attack you…I can only imagine the burden you are carrying,” Mathiason said, adding that it is a burden he needs to carry for the rest of his life.

She told Jessop to take this chance and live the best life he can.

“Honor them (Nick and Casie) by being a man of wisdom and integrity,” said Mathiason.

Jessop raised his head and looked at Mathiason while she addressed him.

Kendra Visser, Nick’s widow, struggled to read her statement, but was able to say that she feels empty, alone and watches the impact of her husband’s death on their five children every day.

“I do hate you. I will never forgive you,” said Kendra.

At one point, she said she could not read her statement and reassured by Judge Cornell who said “I have read every word.”

Robin and Barry Allen are Casie Allen’s parents.

Robin spoke of a life with anxiety, depression and sleeplessness and a constant fear of who will be taken from her life next.

“I do not know what’s right for both sides,” Robin said of the charge, noting that Jessop was 18 when it occurred.

But she also expressed frustration that neither Jessop nor his family had ever reached out to them, but instead “hid behind their lawyers.

“Losing Casie was hard. But living without him is harder,” said Robin.

Barry spoke of having to write his son’s obituary and telling his own parents the news, which he called the most difficult thing he has ever had to do. Barry said the past year has been a struggle every single day and how driving by the crash site, as he often must for work, makes it worse. He spoke of the grief that hits him “a hundred million ways” every day. And how much he misses his only son.

“Casie was not only my son. He was my best friend,” said Barry.

Barry also expressed frustration with the fact that no one in the Jessop family had ever contacted them.

“How do you kill two people and not show any remorse?” asked Barry.

The following is the legal “offer of proof” from the prosecution that outlines the case

COMES NOW Plaintiff, State of Montana, by and through its counsel of record, and hereby respectfully submits its Offer for Proof in anticipation of the Change of Plea hearing scheduled in this matter for Monday, November 8, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. Here, the Defendant has been charged by Complaint with the offense of Count I: Careless Driving Involving Death or Serious Bodily Injury (Misdemeanor), in violation of Sections 61-8-302(1) and 61-8-716(2), MCA. The State and the Defendant, along with his counsel, have entered a non-binding plea agreement under Section 46-12-211(1)(c), MCA, as outlined in the document entitled Advice of Rights (dated September 30, 2021) which has been filed with this Court.

Per the plea agreement, and with the State’s consent, the Defendant will voluntarily plead nolo contendere to Count I of the Complaint.

For the Defendant to be found guilty of Count I at trial, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he (1) failed to operate or drive a vehicle on a public highway in a careful and prudent manner that does not unduly or unreasonably danger the life, limb, property, or other rights of a person entitled to the use of the highway, and (2) said failure resulted in the death or serious bodily injury of another person. See Sections 61-8-302(1) and 61-8-716(2), MCA. If this case were tried, the State would prove the following facts to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt:

On October 25, 2020, at 6:16 a.m., the SCSO received a 911 call regarding a car crash approximately ten miles east of Columbus. MHP Trooper Wyatt Duncan was notified of the crash and responded to the crash scene. The crash occurred at or near Interstate 90 eastbound mile marker 413 within Stillwater County, Montana. Per the weather report, the temperature was 5 degrees Fahrenheit. There was also a light snow shower, the roads were covered in ice, visibility was poor, and there was a slight breeze on scene.

Upon arrival, Trooper Duncan observed a reflective orange sign that read “Wrecker Ahead” on the median side shoulder as well as multiple flares that were extinguished. He also observed the ashes of them. There were multiple semis stopped in the driving lane and multiple emergency vehicles parked in the passing lane. Trooper Duncan was advised by SCSO Deputy Lucas Bruursema that there were two deceased Hanser’s tow truck operators. The operators were on scene recovering a crash from earlier that morning involving a pickup truck and a U-Haul trailer. The deceased were identified as William Casie Allen (DOB: xx/xx/1992) and Nicholas Ryan Visser ( DOB: xx/ xx/1983).

Trooper Duncan spoke with the semi driver involved in the crash, Jacob Miller, and received a brief statement from him. Afterwards, Trooper Duncan walked over to a pickup truck also involved in the crash and contacted the driver and juvenile passenger. Trooper Duncan informed the driver that both individuals he struck were deceased, and he would need to be transported to the hospital for a blood draw. The driver was identified by his Utah driver’s license as Carlyn Samuel Jessop (DOB: xx/xx/2001) (referred hereinafter as the “Defendant”).

While processing the scene, Trooper Duncan observed a “Wrecker Ahead” sign at the crest of the hill, approximately 1,200 feet from the scene. At the beginning of the crash scene was a cone that appeared to have been part of a line of cones directing traffic to the driving lane. This cone was approximately 75 feet before the area of impact. A second cone was found in the median and a third cone was found near a damaged guardrail. East of the third cone was Allen’s body. The guardrail near Allen’s body was severely damaged. Also near his body was a severely damaged U-Haul, which was missing a significant part of its box. The U-Haul’s tongue, hitch, and front axle were dislodged, and a large piece of its wall was embedded in the side of the Defendant’s pickup truck. The U-Haul was pushed up against the recovered pickup truck hooked to the Hanser’s wrecker. The cones, Allen’s body, pickup truck, and recovery wrecker were all in the passing lane. Visser’s body lay just east of Allen’s body nearly in the middle of the interstate. In the driving lane, a commercial semi was pushed up against the guardrail on the south side of the Interstate. The semi sustained damage to its front left corner. The fender was scratched and broken, and the hood was ajar. The right side had multiple scratches. The semi’s trailer was black and suffered minor damage to the left rear corner, which was scratched and bent slightly. There was also a piece of the side of the Defendant’s pickup truck on the semi’s left rear corner. The left taillight was also damaged.

The Defendant’s pickup truck was attached to a gooseneck flatbed trailer and was found at the front driver side of the semi. The pickup truck had severe damage on all sides of the bed. There was also a large slice in the passenger side. The gooseneck hitch on the trailer was bent. The Hanser’s rollback wrecker was sitting across both lanes of the Interstate on the furthest east side of the crash scene. The rollback wrecker had damage to the passenger side door. The end of its flatbed also had a bend in the metal and was in the loading position.

MHP Sergeant Kyle Hayter arrived on scene and interviewed Miller. During his interview, Miller stated that he started driving that morning from Belgrade. Miller stated that he passed by the Defendant’s pickup truck and gooseneck trailer as it was driving up the Interstate 90 eastbound on-ramp from Columbus. Miller stated he was traveling about 55 MPH when he got over to the passing lane and then merged back over to the driving lane. As Miller crested the hill east of Columbus, he observed an accident sign on the left-hand shoulder and started slowing down and put on his four-way flashers. Miller further stated he kept slowing down when he observed the Defendant’s pickup and gooseneck trailer coming up behind him and then get over into the passing lane. Miller was continuously slowing down and could not get over to the right any further because of the guardrail. Miller then stated that he observed the Defendant hit the brakes to where his trailer jackknifed into the passing lane and pushed Miller’s semi-truck into the guardrail.

At the hospital, the Defendant was interviewed by MHP Trooper Brennan Plucker. During the interview, the Defendant stated they were driving from Beaver, Utah to Lisbon, North Dakota where his sister lives with supplies to help build a horse stable. He woke up at approximately 6:00 a.m. on Saturday and loaded the trailer with materials through the day. He picked up his passenger, grabbed coffee, and left around 5:00 p.m. on Saturday.

He did not stop to sleep, and they stopped only for fuel. Their last stop was in Columbus for only 5-10 minutes to get fuel. He stated he was going 55 MPH at the top of the hill. The semi-truck had passed shortly before, and they were both in the driving lane. He noticed he was gaining on the semi but did not see any brake lights because of the snow on the rear of the semi-truck. He stated he was going too fast to stop. He stated he did not see any wrecker warning signs. He switched lanes quickly into the passing lane to avoid the semi-truck before noticing the wreckers. He attempted to keep close to the semi-truck but was already sliding. His trailer hit the semi-truck then whipped back around to the left.

Trooper Duncan left the scene to go to the hospital. Orval Bringhurst, the registered owner of the Dodge Ram pickup truck, arrived at the hospital to pick up the Defendant and his passenger. He gave consent for MHP to retrieve the electronic data recorder (EDR) from the Dodge Ram pickup truck and signed the consent form as well. The Defendant and his passenger were then released to Bringhurst and they left the hospital. At approximately 12:10 p.m., Trooper Duncan returned to the crash scene. Anderson Towing and Hanser’s started recovering the crashed vehicles. MCS Officer Dandrea completed some on-scene inspection of the semi and then escorted it to Park City where he completed the inspection. Sergeant Hayter escorted the Defendant’s Dodge Ram pickup truck and flatbed trailer to the MHP impound lot. Finally, Trooper Duncan escorted the U-Haul trailer to the MHP impound lot. By 1:20 p.m., all law enforcement officers had cleared from the crash scene.

On October 27, 2021, Robert A. Kurtzman, D.O., performed postmortem examinations of the two decedents, Allen and Visser. Dr. Kurtzman determined that the cause of death for each was multiple blunt force injuries which were sustained during the underlying accident.

In the following weeks, MHP conducted follow-up interviews with the Defendant as well as other witnesses who arrived on scene shortly after the crash. MHP also completed vehicle inspections at the impound lot and retrieved the data from the Dodge Ram pickup truck’s EDR. Specifically, Trooper Frievalds and Officer Dandrea weighed the Defendant’s pickup truck. The pickup truck had a total combination gross weight of 8,900 lbs. Trooper Frievalds and MCS Officer Robert Drake later weighed the gooseneck trailer. The gooseneck trailer had a total gross weight of 13,500 lbs. In total, at the time of the underlying accident, the Defendant’s pickup truck and gooseneck trailer weighed 22,400 lbs.

Trooper Duncan re-interviewed the Defendant over the phone during which he reaffirmed much of what he said during his first interview. Specifically, the Defendant stated that he moved into the passing lane to pass the semi-truck but then noticed the accident ahead. When the Defendant tried to move back into the driving lane, he struck the rear corner of the semi-truck which turned his gooseneck trailer into the passing lane. The Defendant further stated that he could not stop because his pickup truck was already sliding on the roadway. When asked how fast he was going as he approached the rear of the semi-truck, the Defendant estimated about 55-60 MPH. When further asked how fast he was going when he hit the tow truck, the Defendant stated he did not think he slowed down much because as soon as he tapped the brakes, he lost all traction and threw his pickup truck into a skid.

Trooper Frievalds imaged the EDR from the Defendant’s pickup truck. Upon reviewing the EDR image, Trooper Frievalds determined that in the 5 seconds prior to the collision the highest speed recorded was about 56 MPH. Prior to the peak speed, the Defendant’s pickup truck was traveling about 43 MPH and had the brake activated. For the entire 5-second period prior to the collision, the brake was being applied and the ABS was active. No throttle was applied during this period. At the time of impact, the Defendant’s pickup truck was traveling approximately 13 MPH.

Based on his investigation, Trooper Duncan determined that in the twenty-four hours prior to the crash, both Hanser’s tow truck operators had been working around the clock in the area due to multiple crashes which resulted from the recent winter storm. The Defendant was driving from Beaver, Utah to Lisbon, North Dakota along with supplies for building a horse barn. On October 24, 2020, at 6:00 a.m., the Defendant woke up and loaded the flatbed trailer and put new tires on his pickup truck. He then picked up his passenger, grabbed coffee, and left around 5:00 p.m. He stated that he did not stop to sleep, but only to refuel. The last place he refueled was in Columbus. Miller spent the previous night at a truck stop in Belgrade before continuing eastbound on Interstate 90. Miller stated he left Belgrade at 4:01 a.m. Shortly before the crash, Miller further stated that he passed the Defendant’s pickup truck as it was coming up the Columbus eastbound on ramp. Miller stated he saw the “Wrecker Ahead” sign ahead and began to slow down. He maneuvered the semi as far to the right as possible without hitting the guardrail. As he was moving to the right, however, the Defendant’s pickup truck went into the passing lane.

Meanwhile, the Hanser’s rollback wrecker was parked in the passing lane with the rollback approximately six inches off the ground. The two tow truck operators were loading the U-Haul trailer from the previous crash. The Defendant was following the semi while approaching the crash scene. The semi began to slow down after Miller saw the “Wrecker Ahead” sign. The Defendant was approaching the rear of the semi at too high of a rate of speed for the road conditions and was unable to slow down sufficiently to avoid a collision. The Defendant swerved to avoid hitting the semi but clipped the rear-end as he moved into the left passing lane. The Defendant then noticed the crash ahead and tried to move as close to the semi as possible, but he struck the semi and pushed it into the guardrail on the right-side shoulder. After striking the semi, the Defendant’s pickup truck started to rotate clockwise. While rotating, the Defendant’s pickup truck jackknifed with its gooseneck trailer. The trailer’s momentum caused the pickup truck’s bed to swing to the left. After swinging to the left, the pickup truck’s bed then struck the two tow truck operators, the U-Haul trailer, and the Hanser’s rollback wrecker. The electronic data recorder indicated the Defendant’s pickup speed had slowed to approximately 13 MPH as he struck the semi’s left rear corner.

Trooper Duncan determined there were multiple factors for the crash. The first factor was weather conditions. At the time of the crash, it was snowing with a slight breeze. The snow falling combined with the snow already on the ground and being kicked up behind the semi created conditions which hindered the Defendant’s ability to see the “Wrecker Ahead” sign, properly gauge his distance from the semi, and see the crash beyond the semi.

The second factor was the road conditions. At the time of the crash, the road conditions were snow-packed and extremely icy. While this caused everyone to drive slower than the posted speed limit, it severely hindered the Defendant’s ability to slow or stop in a timely manner.

The third factor was the Defendant’s higher rate of speed which was imprudent for the road conditions. The Defendant’s inability to avoid rear-ending the semi causing him to swerve into the passing lane and strike the two tow truck operators, Allen and Visser, shows he was traveling too fast for road conditions and was unable to operate his vehicle and flatbed trailer in a safe manner. The fourth contributing factor is the placement of the traffic control cones used to close the passing lane.

DATED this 8th day of November, 2021.