Two Kalispell men have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor negligent endangerment six months after being accused of firing a semi-automatic rifle toward a group of boaters on the Flathead River in Columbia Falls.
Ryan Phillip Bauch and Jason Lee Bauch were scheduled to go to trial on felony criminal endangerment charges this week, but on Jan. 27 the two men appeared at a change of plea hearing before Judge Robert Allison.
After pleading guilty to the reduced charge, the two men were sentenced to six months in the Flathead County Detention Center with all but five days suspended. The two men received credit for two days served. They will also have to complete a hunter safety education course and provide a presentation during the course, while also completing 20 hours of community service.
According to court documents, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office received reports of shots being fired on July 24, 2016 in the area of Jellison and South Hilltop Roads in Columbia Falls. Upon arrival, the deputies found bullets on the side of the river and lodged in nearby trees.
Deputies spoke to a woman who said she was floating the river with her boyfriend and four children when they were shot at. The woman said multiple bullets were impacting the water in front of and behind their rafts and some were even whizzing over their heads. She began to scream that there were children on the rafts and that whoever was shooting in their direction needed to stop. Another couple in a canoe also reported being shot at.
According to charging documents, the deputies found three men in an area about 200 yards from the river, including Ryan, 32, and Jason, 33. Ryan and Jason allegedly said that they had been shooting an AR-15 rifle and a semiautomatic 9mm pistol and that before firing they yelled out toward the river “this is declared a fire zone.” The men reportedly waited a few minutes to see if there was a response and then started shooting. The two men said they never heard anyone yelling from the river because they were wearing ear protection.
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