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Billings Settles DUI Crash Case

The city of Billings has agreed to pay a $222,000 settlement to a man in a wrongful death suit. His wife was killed by a drunken driver who was released by authorities hours before she got behind the wheel again.

The victim, a 59-year-old teacher, was killed when a pickup truck driven by the drunken driver slammed into her car at King Avenue West and 29th Street West in Billings, Montana on Feb. 22, 2010. The city did not admit liability as a condition of the settlement.

Media reports show that a citizen had called the police about the drunken driver hours before the collision when he had seen her get stuck in a snow bank as she drove near an apartment complex. The woman's keys were no longer in her vehicle because her friend had removed them, and that friend assured officers that she would give the suspect a ride home. The drunken driver must have found a way to get behind the wheel again, however, as she ultimately caused the fatal accident.

The city came under fire for failing to arrest the suspect, who is currently serving 20 years of jail time in connection with the vehicular homicide. The convict did not contribute to the settlement amount, according to city officials.

In the past, officers were loath to arrest drivers who had been reported as intoxicated by other citizens because it was hard to show probable cause. Now, though, the police department is going to receive extensive training about arresting citizen-reported DUI offenders. Local residents and officers themselves acknowledge that citizen reports can help save lives on Montana's roads.

The victim's husband will also receive a settlement from the insurance company of the friend who attempted to take the drunken driver home.

People who have suffered similar situations can sue their municipalities for wrongful death, along with emotional distress, pain and suffering and other claims. Those who have been victimized by poor law enforcement compliance should speak to attorneys to determine their legal options.

Source: Billings Gazette, "Settlement terms disclosed in suit against Billings police for fatal DUI crash," Greg Tuttle, March 6, 2013

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