Woman Pleads Not Guilty to Hit and Run

By Beacon Staff

A woman accused of a hit and run that injured a 19-year-old woman pleaded not guilty to the two felony charges stemming from the Sept. 18 incident.

Sara Joann Smith appeared before District Court Judge Robert Allison on Oct. 17 for an arraignment hearing, during which she entered not guilty pleas to one count of criminal endangerment and one of failure to remain at the scene of an accident.

According to court documents, the charges result from a Sept. 18 car crash on the west side of Kalispell. A police sergeant responded to a crash reported at the intersection of Ninth Avenue West and Sixth Street West, where he found 19-year-old Juliet Maisch in “obvious distress” in the passenger area of a damaged vehicle.

Maisch’s boyfriend told the sergeant that she had been visiting him prior to the crash, and had just left his house in her vehicle when he heard the sound of the crash.

He went outside to check out what had happened, and reported that he saw a dark-colored Jeep Cherokee with extensive damage and a blonde woman inside. He said that while he was helping his girlfriend, the blond woman left the scene in the damaged Jeep, without providing any identification or insurance information.

The sergeant investigating the scene reported finding the Jeep’s bumper with the license plate still attached, which came back as registered to a 1998 Jeep Cherokee owned by Smith.

At 5 p.m. that same day, Smith went to the Kalispell Police Department to speak with investigators. She allegedly admitted to driving earlier that day and being involved in a crash with another vehicle, and also allegedly admitted that she had been drinking alcohol before the crash and left the scene after the crash.

Maisch appeared at the Oct. 17 hearing as well, watching in the gallery while sitting in a wheelchair.

Smith has been released on her own recognizance under a specific set of conditions. If convicted of the two felonies she faces, Smith could face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and $100,000 in fines.

If the case goes to trial, it will occur in the jury term starting March 31.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.