Lake County District Judge Kim Christopher will preside over the case of Kalispell state Sen. Greg Barkus, an official with the Lake County court confirmed Wednesday. Christopher has scheduled Barkus’ arraignment for the morning of Oct. 26. The 62-year-old Republican is charged with three felonies after an Aug. 27 boat crash on Flathead Lake that seriously injured himself and four others, including Congressman Denny Rehberg.
Christopher will be traveling up from Polson to Kalispell for the arraignment, where Barkus will plead guilty or not guilty to his charges of one count of criminal endangerment and two counts of negligent vehicular assault after he drove his speedboat onto the rocky shoreline at Wayfarers State Park the night of Aug. 27. If convicted on all charges, Barkus faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan filed a motion Oct. 14 requesting a substitute for District Judge Nels Swandal of Livingston. Swandal was previously assigned to handle the case after the three Flathead District Court judges removed themselves because they worked with Barkus this year on legislation to add district court judges in Montana.
Prosecutors say Barkus’ blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit, but Barkus’ attorney, Todd Glazier, disputes those tests. Witnesses quoted in the charging documents say Barkus was drinking scotch and wine prior to getting in the boat.
The crash occurred after Barkus, 62, became unsure of the direction he was heading in the dark, while driving the group from a reception in Lakeside across Flathead Lake toward a resort in Bigfork where Rehberg and his staff were staying that night. According to the charging documents, investigators believe the boat could have been traveling 40 miles per hour or faster when it hit the shore.
Barkus suffered a broken pelvis in the crash; Rehberg broke his ankle and Rehberg’s State Director Dustin Frost was in a coma for several days following the accident after suffering a severe head injury. He is now undergoing rehabilitation in Missoula. Barkus’ wife Kathy and Rehberg’s Deputy Chief of Staff Kristin Smith also sustained less serious injuries.
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