Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Suspect pleads guilty in reservoir death

Bellevue man, 20, faces prison for vehicular manslaughter

Express Staff Writer

Twenty-year-old Steven Tyler Jameson pleaded guilty Monday to causing the death of another man last summer at Magic Reservoir. At his right is defense counsel Brian Elkins. Photo by Willy Cook

A 20-year-old Bellevue man pleaded guilty Monday to vehicular manslaughter for causing the death of another man last summer at Magic Reservoir.

The Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is seeking a 10-year prison sentence for Steven Tyler Jameson for operating a vehicle with “gross negligence” and causing the death of 26-year-old Stephen Ray Franco on June 2.

At Monday’s hearing in Blaine County 5th District Court, Jameson admitted that he was drinking alcohol “before and after” backing into Franco and knocking him off a cliff next to the reservoir. Jameson said he fled the scene of the accident because he “got scared.”

Jameson was arrested by the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office later that day and has been incarcerated since then on $250,000 bond.

The guilty plea was the result of a plea agreement and averted a jury trial that was scheduled to start today, April 3.

In accord with the agreement, Jameson will not be convicted of causing the death of Franco when he was intoxicated, a situation that could lead to a 14-year prison sentence under Idaho’s manslaughter statutes. Instead, he is convicted of the lesser crime of causing the death of Franco “without malice” but “with gross negligence,” a situation that provides for a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

The agreement provides that prosecutors will seek a 10-year prison sentence, with four years to be served before Jameson would be eligible for parole.

Presiding Judge Robert Elgee is not bound by terms of the plea agreement and defense attorney Brian Elkins can argue for a lesser sentence, including the granting of a withheld judgment, which would remove the conviction from Jameson’s criminal record if he successfully completed probation.

The plea agreement also affected a second felony charge filed against Jameson—“leaving the scene of an accident resulting in an injury or death.” Instead, that charge will be amended to the misdemeanor crime of “failing to give immediate notice of an accident.”

At Monday’s hearing, Jameson also pleaded guilty to that crime, as well as to another misdemeanor charge of driving without a license.

Sentencing was scheduled for June 3. Elgee also granted a motion by Elkins that Jameson be given a mental-health evaluation at the court’s expense before sentence is pronounced.

The Sheriff’s Office earlier reported that the accident occurred around 4:30 p.m. at a gathering involving about a dozen people on the west side of the Poison Creek inlet on the north side of Magic Reservoir. According to the report, Franco was standing behind Jameson and guiding him into a tight parking spot when Jameson hit him with his vehicle and knocked him off the cliff.

Franco fell about 20 feet, landed on rocks and suffered head and chest injuries. He was pronounced dead later that day at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.

At Monday’s court hearing, Jameson told the judge that when he was backing up he accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake.

“I understand that what I did was wrong,” he said.

Terry Smith:

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