Vehicular homicide trial starts - Accused disputes he was driver at time of wreck

By Francis Davis - The Montana Standard
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VIRGINIA CITY — A Utah’s man jury trial for vehicular homicide while under the influence began Monday in Virginia City district court.

Louis Schardine, 29, is charged with the death of a woman in a single-vehicle accident that occurred the morning of Aug. 14, 2010, on Highway 287, about three miles south of Ennis.

According to Madison County Attorney Chris Christensen, Schardine drove and lost control of a 2001 Ford F-350 after he had spent the previous hours drinking at Ennis bars. The only other occupant in the truck, Sarah Nicole Fleming, died at the scene. Neither Fleming nor Schardine was wearing seat belts, according to Christensen.

Schardine’s attorney, Herman “Chuck” Watson said Fleming, not his client, was driving the vehicle when it crashed.

At the time of the accident, the couple was engaged and living in Ennis, where Fleming, who was 22, worked as a pre-school teacher. Schardine is a professional bull rider.

Witnesses have attested that Fleming was driving when the couple pulled out of the parking lot of an Ennis bar around 2 a.m.

Christensen said the state won’t dispute those eye witnesses.

“We don’t dispute that, but that’s not the thing that is at issue,” Christensen said during his opening statement. “Our position is something happened from the time they left Ennis till that crash. And physical facts don’t lie. The defendant was driving at the time of the crash.”

Christensen said that facts of the case prove that Schardine was driving when the truck went off the road as it was attempting to pass a semi-trailer. As the pickup truck attempted to pass, the driver lost control, crashed into a telephone pole and went airborne before finally hitting a tree.

Christensen said the force of the crash pinned the bodies into the cab in such a position that it was obvious that Schardine was the driver and that Fleming the passenger. The county attorney said Schardine’s feet were wedged between the dash and the driver’s side seat, and that Schardine’s boot was found wedged beneath the brake pedal.

According to court documents, multiple first responders to the scene also believed that Schardine was the driver and that Fleming was the passenger because of the position of their bodies in the crashed vehicle. Fleming, the affidavit states was “lying against the passenger side door and her right lower leg wedged between the glove compartment area and front passenger seat.”

Christensen also said DNA evidence supported the State’s case against Schardine. Schardine’s blood, Christensen said, was found on the driver’s side windshield and that Fleming’s hair was found on the passenger’s side door jam.

Schardine’s attorney, Watson, countered that the force of the crash shifted the bodies within the cab of the pickup.

The truck, Watson argued, was traveling 80 mph at the time of the crash, and traveled 700 feet before it finally came to a standstill. He said it was that force, along with the large interior size of the F-350 and the fact that both Fleming and Schardine were small people, that caused the bodies to switch positions during the crash.

Watson also said that Fleming’s injuries, which included massive trauma to her chest, indicated that she was driving. And Watson said Schardine never drove the truck, which he said was owned by Fleming.

Compounding the difficulty of the case, the pickup truck was released from custody before the defense team had a chance to examine it for evidence to support its case.

Because of these reasons, Watson argued that there was plenty of room for reasonable doubt in the case against Schardine. He also said the facts plainly supported his client.

“The evidence will show that these (two) people left the bar at ten after two,” Watson said during his opening statement. “She was driving. He was the passenger. There was no reason for them to swap. She lost control passing that semi.”

The jury is expected to retire to consider its decision on Wednesday or Thursday.

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