Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg and his staff member, Kristin Smith, were released from Kalispell Regional Medical Center on Monday after suffering injuries in a boat crash near Bigfork four days earlier.
Dustin Frost, Rehberg’s state director who was also in the accident, remained at the hospital with a serious brain injury.
“Everybody’s optimistic that he’s going to recover,” Erik Iverson, Rehberg’s former chief of staff, who spoke with reporters in the days after the crash, said in a Monday conference call. Doctors continue to monitor the pressure on Frost’s brain and Iverson said he did not believe Frost, a native of Sunburst, has regained consciousness since the accident.
Kalispell state Sen. Greg Barkus, who was driving the boat, and his wife, Kathleen, have not released any statements as of press time, but Iverson said he has spoken with both of them and they remain in stable condition. Barkus has hired an attorney, Todd Glazier of Kalispell, to represent him. Glazier has not returned a call for comment as of this writing.
“While it’s good to be heading home, my thoughts and prayers remain with Dustin, Kristen, Greg, Kathy and their families,” Rehberg said in a statement.
An investigation is ongoing into the circumstances of the crash, which occurred around 10 p.m., Aug. 27, when the boat ran into rocks in the dark near Wayfarer’s State Park. The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has turned its portion of the investigation over to Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan. Flathead County Sheriff Mike Meehan said Monday he hopes to have his investigation completed by the end of this week, conducted jointly by his department, and state Highway Patrol accident reconstruction specialists. The Sheriff’s office has the boat in a “secure facility,” Meehan added.
The group was returning from a party at a Lakeside dock on the way to Marina Cay resort in Bigfork, where Rehberg was staying that night. The event was not a fundraiser, nor was it hosted by any one person, Iverson said, calling it a “family event” where dinner was served outside.
Iverson said Rehberg recalled sitting on the left passenger side of the boat, talking to Smith and Kathleen Barkus prior to the crash. The passengers were “hunkered down” because it was a cold, windy evening, he added, and Frost was at the back of the boat.
“He thinks it was Kristin (Smith) who made mention of, ‘It looks like we’re going to hit something,’” Iverson said Rehberg recalled. “He turned around and there was impact.”
Rehberg’s blood alcohol level, taken several hours after the crash around 1 a.m., was 0.05, below the legal limit of 0.08, according to KRMC’s doctors, Iverson said. “At no point was Denny ever driving the boat.”
No information has been released regarding Barkus’ blood alcohol level.
Rehberg underwent surgery Friday for his broken left ankle, and a laceration on his knee. He also suffered a small fracture to the bone around his left eye. He is in a cast and on crutches. Iverson said he did not know whether Rehberg, Montana’s lone congressman and a Republican, planned to stick to his scheduled return to Congress on Sept. 7 following the August recess.
Several prominent lawmakers have called since the accident, Iverson said, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican Leader John Boehner, and Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester.
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