November 12, 2019

Angle found guilty of vehicular homicide - Daily Leader Extra : Local News

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Angle found guilty of vehicular homicide

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Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2019 3:27 pm

A Third Circuit Court judge determined that Natalie Angle, 49, was guilty of vehicular homicide during a Wednesday afternoon court trial at the Lake County Courthouse in Madison.

Angle was found responsible by Judge Patrick Pardy for causing a fatal, two-vehicle accident that occurred on Dec. 17, 2018, on SD-34 west of Madison. James "Jim" Birgen, 69, of Madison, who was in the other vehicle, died at the accident scene.

Angle had waived her right to a jury trial and wanted a judge to determine her case. She was charged with vehicular homicide, a Class 3 felony, and first-offense driving under the influence, a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The trial opened at 1:30 p.m. with Lake County State's Attorney Wendy Kloeppner calling Kevin Eichacker, Angle's boyfriend, to the witness stand. Eichacker said he had worked on Dec. 17, returned to his home west of Madison, and met with Angle at his house before the accident. Angle, who is a Sioux Falls resident, had stayed at Eichacker's home during the day.

Eichacker said that Angle had a mixed drink, whiskey and diet cola, before she left his home at about 5:15 p.m. driving a Hummer that also carried two dogs.

At about 5:25 p.m., Deputy Grant Lanning of the Lake County Sheriff's Office was notified of an injury accident west of Madison on SD-34. At the scene, Lanning found two damaged vehicles, a Ford F-350 pickup and a Hummer. The pickup had landed on its passenger side on the highway facing east. A male, Birgen, was lying on the roadway and had received serious head trauma. Birgen was ejected from his vehicle. He did not have any vital signs when examined.

The Hummer had landed in the highway's south ditch about 100 yards west of the pickup, and Angle was in the driver's seat.

Kloeppner's second witness, Troy Raguse, a semi-truck driver and Volga resident, testified that he had seen the collision occur on the highway near Junius. Birgen was driving east on SD-34 ahead of Raguse's truck. Angle was driving west when the collision occurred.

"I saw the vehicle -- the H3 Hummer -- sideswipe the pickup," Raguse said.

Angle's Hummer had rolled several times after the collision and emergency personnel had to remove her from the vehicle.

During his testimony, Lanning said that he had smelled alcohol when he approached the Hummer. During subsequent questioning, Angle said that she had consumed alcohol before the accident.

Angle was taken to the Madison hospital for medical treatment. The sheriff's department obtained search warrants for blood-alcohol tests and her vehicle. Angle had blood drawn at about 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Angle also told law-enforcement officers that she was distracted by her dogs when the accident occurred. Later at the hospital, Lake County Sheriff Tim Walburg spoke with Angle and he said she thought she had struck a semi on the highway. Walburg told Angle that she had hit a pickup and the driver was dead. Walburg then arrested Angle and placed her in the Lake County Jail.

Investigators also suspected that Angle was speeding when the accident happened. The next day, Trooper Jeremy Gacke of the South Dakota Highway Patrol was called to the accident scene to investigate. After collecting information from the accident scene and Angle's Hummer, Gacke determined that Angle was driving 85 mph, crossed the highway's center line and hit Birgen's pickup on the driver's side.

Kloeppner also had Officer Heath Abraham of the Madison Police Department testify about his conversation with Angle at the accident scene. Abraham said he also smelled alcohol at Angle's vehicle and she was concerned about the dogs in her vehicle.

After the prosecution finished with witness testimony, Manuel deCastro, Angle's defense attorney, did not call any witnesses. He made a motion for acquittal, saying that the prosecution had not proven Angle's blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit at the time of the collision.

Pardy ordered a recess before he passed judgment on the case. After about 30 minutes, Pardy returned to the courtroom having found that the prosecution had provided enough evidence to show that her blood-alcohol was above the legal limit -- about 0.274% -- at the time of the accident. Pardy said that Angle was driving 20 miles over the speed limit and was distracted by her dogs, showing negligence. She had also entered the victim's driving lane.

Pardy scheduled Angle's sentencing hearing on Nov. 26.

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