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Former trooper pleads guilty to negligent homicide charge

By LYNNDA JOHNSON
Sun Advocate editor

A former Utah Highway Patrol trooper has pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in connection with a 1998 automobile-bicycle accident that claimed the life of a Price youth.

The defendant, Courtland Eliot Childs Sr., appeared at a special setting in the criminal complaint Aug. 15 in the 6th District courtroom at Manti.

Seventh District Judge Lyle R. Anderson presided on the court bench and defense counsel Bradley Rich represented the former Utah Highway Patrol trooper during the specially scheduled criminal proceeding.

Acting as the state prosecutor, deputy Utah County attorney Sherry Ragan filed an amended criminal information charging Childs with the lesser included class A misdemeanor category negligent homicide offense.

On Aug. 15, the defendant waived the right to trial in the amended criminal case and Childs pleaded guilty to the amended class A negligent homicide charge.

Judge Anderson reviewed the former UHP trooper's constitutional rights before accepting the defendant's guilty plea on the lesser included class A negligent homicide offense.

At the conclusion of the specially set hearing, the court ordered the Utah Department of Corrections to prepare a presentence investigation and recommendations, then tentatively scheduled pronouncement of judgment in Childs' class A misdemeanor category conviction on Oct. 1 in the 7th District Court at Price.

Filed in June 2002, the original felony level criminal case charged the former UHP trooper with one third degree automobile homicide count.

The third degree offense stemmed from a July 1998 fatal vehicle-bicycle traffic accident that occurred on south Carbon Avenue in Price.

The formal complaint contended that Childs was operating a UHP patrol car in a negligent manner while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs when the law enforcement vehicle struck Michael Kouris.

The victim died from injuries incurred in the accident.

The district court initially scheduled an October 2002 preliminary hearing in the felony level complaint.

After accepting witness testimony at the Oct. 30 proceeding, Judge Anderson granted a continuance and directed legal counsel to arrange a second court setting to complete the preliminary hearing.

On Jan. 14, 2003, the prosecution called one witness to testify at the preliminary hearing, Dennis Crouch from the University of Utah's human toxicology center.

Taking the stand, Crouch confirmed reviewing the results of the state laboratory tests conducted on a blood sample drawn from Childs on the day of the fatal traffic accident.

The lab tests identified the presence of three prescription medications in the defendant's blood sample.

Although the medications registered within prescribed therapeutical levels, Crouch testified that the central nervous system affects associated with the drugs "could have impaired" the defendant's ability to drive.

Following the U of U toxicology researcher's testimony, Rich informed the court Childs would not testify at the preliminary hearing and the defense rested without calling witnesses to the stand.

The probable cause standards for preliminary hearings specify that defendants must be bound over for trial unless the prosecution's evidence is "wholly lacking," noted John Easton, sharing the state's closing arguments with Ragan.

The prosecutors asked Judge Anderson to disregard the testimony provided by law enforcement investigators and render the court's preliminary hearing decision based primarily on an account of the accident from one eyewitness.

Submitting the defense's closing comments, Rich challenged the prosecution's argument urging the court to ignore the statements from law enforcement officers and issue a ruling based on one individual's testimony.

Citing the extremely low probable cause standards, Judge Anderson indicated the court was obligated under the law to order Childs bound over and the defendant pleaded not guilty to the third degree automobile homicide charge at felony arraignment.

The district judge accepted Child's not guilty plea and tentatively scheduled a July 14 trial date in the felony level criminal case. The court later vacated the trial date and scheduled the special Aug. 15 setting to accept the defendant's guilty plea on the amended lesser included negligent homicide offense.

Pursuant to Utah statute, the maximum penalties the district court may impose in a class A misdemeanor category criminal conviction include a one-year jail term along with a $2,500 fine.





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