A Bismarck man doesn't remember a crash that killed three of his friends. But he admits the evidence shows he was driving his car recklessly through Mandan and caused their deaths.
Taylor Berhow, 23, pleaded guilty on Tuesday during a preliminary hearing at the Morton County Courthouse to three counts of Class B felony manslaughter. South Central District Judge Sonna Anderson ordered a presentence investigation be completed before she decides whether to accept a plea agreement that would put Berhow in prison for five years for the crimes.
Berhow was driving a car that struck a tree on the 2300 block of Third Street Southeast at 1:02 a.m. on Oct. 29. Court documents say his blood-alcohol concentration was .266 at 2:24 a.m. - more than three times the legal limit of .08. Charles Boehm, 21, Trevor Erie, 21, and Eastman Nadeau, 22, were killed in the crash. Another passenger, 22-year-old Jarrod Turner of Mandan, was injured.
A witness who saw Berhow's vehicle in the moments before the crash reported it appeared to drive in a ditch while turning onto Memorial Highway, then swerved and appeared to go up on two wheels as it turned onto Third Street Southeast. Another witness estimated the vehicle was going 100 mph as it went by him at the intersection of 24th Avenue Southeast and Third Street Southeast, then swerved and fishtailed prior to leaving the road and striking a tree on the 2300 block of Third Street Southeast.
A crash reconstruction indicated Berhow was driving 75 to 85 mph when he lost control and struck the tree in the 35-mph zone. Boehm, Erie and Nadeau died at the scene of the crash. Berhow and Turner were taken to Bismarck hospitals. Berhow was released in the following days, and Turner spent at least a week in the hospital with internal injuries.
When Anderson asked Berhow to explain what happened on Oct. 29, his attorney, Tom Tuntland, said Berhow has retrograde amnesia in relation to the crash and would be unable to give any details of what happened. However, he said Berhow has reviewed police reports, witness statements, laboratory reports and the crash reconstruction and believes he was driving recklessly and caused the deaths of Boehm, Erie and Nadeau.
"It is not unusual after an accident like this for someone to not remember the events," Tuntland said.
Tuntland said the only possible defense would be to prove Berhow was not driving the car; but since Berhow was found trapped behind the wheel of his car that would not be a plausible explanation, he said.
Morton County Assistant State's Attorney Jackson Lofgren said a plea agreement in the case would call for Berhow to be sentenced to 10 years in prison with five years suspended and five years of supervised probation. Berhow would have to serve 85 percent of the sentence before being considered for release, Tuntland said.
Family and friends of Berhow and the three victims packed the courtroom on Tuesday. Tuntland explained that they thought it was possible Berhow would be sentenced on Tuesday after pleading guilty. A preliminary hearing is the first chance a defendant in a felony case has to enter a plea to a charge, but it is not common for someone to plead guilty at such an early juncture.
He said Berhow is finishing out-patient alcohol treatment and will provide the court with a chemical dependency evaluation completed prior to his treatment. Berhow will do follow-up treatment after the out-patient treatment ends, Tuntland said.
Berhow remains free from custody after posting 10 percent of $10,000 and submitting to GPS monitoring.
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