PIERRE, S.D. – (DRG News) A Faith man appeared in a Pierre courtroom today and changed his plea to charges from an April vehicle accident that killed a Pierre woman. 63-year-old Walt Lee Taton entered a guilty plea to charges of Vehicular Homicide, Vehicular Battery, DUI and Driving on the Wrong Side of the Highway. Other counts were dismissed, as was a Part Two information linked to the case. Taton was driving a pickup westbound on Highway 34 when he crossed the centerline and crashed head-on into an eastbound Dodge van driven by Sadie Clark. A passenger in the Clark van, 28-year-old Heather Unser of Pierre, died of the injuries she received. Both Clark and Taton received serious, non-life threatening injuries.
In court today, Taton spoke quietly when asked questions about the case and whether he understood his rights. Judge Mark Barnett found Taton’s pleas to be voluntary and said that he believes Taton is fully aware of his rights. Taton said he had been working in Milesville and didn’t remember the hours that led up to the accident. He agreed that he is satisfied that information about the case contained in a factual basis statement is accurate. The court paperwork indicated that Taton had consumed alcoholic beverages in Fort Pierre and while under the influence, drove his pickup west on Highway 34. The statement says there was nothing that the driver of the van, Sadie Clark could have done to avoid the head on crash-and that it occurred entirely in Clark’s lane of travel. Blood samples taken from Taton a few hours after the accident indicated his blood alcohol content registered .159 and .147 respectively, which exceeds the legal limit of .08. A presentence investigation was ordered and Taton will be sentenced on December 5 at 9:00 a.m. Mountain Time in Philip. The charges he admitted to could bring Taton a sentence of up to 26 years behind bars and a maximum fine of $52,500.
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