Idaho records may shed light on deadly Montana crash

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SANDPOINT — A Sandpoint man charged with causing a deadly highway crash in southwestern Montana was apparently experiencing mental health crises in the months leading up to the collision.

Christopher Michael Kepler was charged with one count of negligent homicide and one count of criminal endangerment following the Jan. 8 crash near Garrison, Mont.

The Montana Highway Patrol said Kepler was traveling westbound in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 90 when his sport utility vehicle crashed head-on into a pickup truck containing a couple from Ronan, Mont. Patricia Graves, 57, was killed in the crash and her husband was injured, according to published media accounts.

Butte, Mont., TV station KXLF reported that witnesses said Kepler was driving as fast as 95 miles an hour when the crash occurred.

The Missoulian newspaper reports that Kepler is being held at the Powell County Jail with bail set at $500,000. His arraignment in Montana’s 3rd District Court is set for Tuesday.

Kepler, 41, was due in Bonner County Magistrate Court on Friday to be arraigned on misdemeanor charges of possession of drug paraphernalia and driving without privileges.

An Idaho State Police trooper encountered Kepler parked along U.S. Highway 95 in Careywood on Nov. 1, 2012. Kepler told the trooper he had run out of gas, but became unresponsive when he was asked for his driver’s license and registration, the arrest report said.

Kepler’s license was found to be indefinitely suspended under the Non-Resident Violator Compact, an interstate compact used by more than 40 states to process traffic citations across state borders.

Suspensions under NRVC can occur when a motorist is cited in another state but refuses to respond to the ticket.

A Bonner Count sheriff’s deputy who responded as a cover officer advised the trooper that Kepler appeared to be in the throes of a mental health episode.

“Deputy (Aaron) Flynn discovered Kepler was experiencing hallucinations and it was determined that he was having a mental break with reality,” Trooper Leslie Lehman said in the report.

Kepler was taken into protective custody, but later released.

On Nov. 4, 2012, Kepler was allegedly found in a woman’s Pine Street home. He repeatedly refused officers’ commands to come out from behind a chair and became combative, prompting him to be shocked with a Taser multiple times, a police report said.

After being taken into custody, Kepler told an officer that he ran into the home to escape the devil, which he said had been chasing him since birth, the arrest report said.

Kepler, the report added, told an officer he was taking undisclosed medications for an unspecified condition, but said he stopped taking the drugs because they did not give him any relief.

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