A 57-year-old Whitefish man accused of driving into two pedestrians — resulting in one of them being impaled by a tree branch — pleaded guilty to a single count of criminal endangerment in Flathead County District Court on Sept. 6.
James B. French Jr. was previously charged with two counts of felony negligent vehicular assault stemming from an incident in Whitefish in July 2018. As part of the plea deal negotiated with prosecutors, French pleaded guilty by way of Alford to an amended charge.
An Alford plea occurs when a defendant maintains and asserts their innocence but acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence that, if presented to a jury, could result in a conviction.
French will be sentenced in October. He agreed to a binding plea agreement that calls for him to receive a six year deferred sentence and pay a $1,000 fine. If the judge does not agree with the sentence, French would be able to withdraw his plea and go to trial.
French’s attorney, Lane Bennett, noted that the victims in the case agreed with the plea deal. Restitution for the victims will likely be covered in an ongoing civil case.
According to court documents and law enforcement, the incident occurred on Baker Avenue at approximately 4:45 p.m. on July 14. When police arrived, they found a 2012 Mustang up on the sidewalk and two people suffering from “very serious injuries.” The pedestrians, a husband and wife, had been walking on the sidewalk when the vehicle struck them. The woman ended up going down a steep embankment and the man was impaled by some branches in a tree, about 15 feet in the air. Both people were taken to area hospitals.
The driver of the vehicle told law enforcement that he had turned north off Eighth Street onto Baker Avenue when he lost control of the vehicle and drove on to the sidewalk. According to court documents, French later took a Breathalyzer test that confirmed that he had been drinking prior to the incident.