Evaluation ordered in fatal accident

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SANDPOINT — A Sandpoint man accused of causing a deadly head-on crash in southwestern Montana was ordered Tuesday to undergo a mental health evaluation, according to published reports.

The Montana Standard newspaper in Butte reported that Christopher Michael Kepler will undergo the evaluation at Montana State Hospital. The court entered a not guilty plea on Kepler’s behalf during his arraignment on Tuesday.

Kepler, 42, is charged with felony offenses of deliberate homicide, or in the alternative negligent homicide, assault with a weapon and criminal endangerment, Montana Standard reported.

In addition to the felony offenses, Kepler is facing a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license.

The charges arose from a Jan. 8 collision on Interstate 90 near Garrison which killed one woman and injured her husband. The Montana Highway Patrol said Kepler was traveling westbound in the eastbound lane of the interstate when he collided with a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer.

Patricia Graves, a 57-year-old passenger in the pickup, was killed. Graves’ husband, Benjamin, survived the collision.

Powell County Attorney Lewis Smith told a Deer Lodge district judge that the Graves had purchased property in Circle and were in the process of moving from the Ronan-St. Ignatius area at the time of the crash, The Montana Standard reported.

The newspaper report does not indicate what prompted the state and the defense to jointly move for an evaluation.

Court records in Idaho indicate Kepler was having mental health episodes in the months leading up to the collision.

An Idaho State Police trooper encountered Kepler on U.S. Highway 95 last November. Kepler told the trooper he had run out of gas and a Bonner County sheriff’s deputy discovered that Kepler appeared to be hallucinating. Several days after that encounter, Kepler was arrested for unlawful entry after he was discovered in a stranger’s home on Pine Street. Kepler told Sandpoint Police that he went into the home to escape the devil, according to the arrest report.

The Montana Standard reported that Kepler consented to a blood test following the crash, but said there was no indication in the record that he was drunk or had drugs in his system.

If found guilty of deliberate homicide, Kepler could be sentenced to death or between 10 and 100 years in prison. If found guilty of negligent homicide and other charges, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison each felony charge and fined up to $150,000.

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