BOISE — After a preliminary hearing, a judge on Monday dismissed a felony charge against a Boise teen accused of striking and killing a 7-year-old boy with a truck in July.
Police and prosecutors say Conner Brant, 18, on July 18 was driving on West Amity Road, just east of Cloverdale Road when he struck Eduard Prokopchuk, who was riding his bicycle with two other children, later identified in court documents as Prokopchuk’s brother and cousin. Both of those children were also younger than 10 years old, and one of them was injured in the crash.
In November, after the Ada County Sheriff’s Office investigated the incident, a judge issued a warrant for Brant’s arrest on suspicion of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter; prosecutors in January later amended their complaint against Brant, charging him instead with felony vehicular manslaughter.
But they did not show enough evidence to secure the heavier charge, argued Mark Manweiler, Brant’s attorney, on Monday. In order to be guilty of felony vehicular manslaughter, Brant had to display “gross negligence.” Brant would have had to act with “wanton, flagrant or willing” disregard for Prokopchuk’s safety to meet that standard, attorneys said in court. Magistrate Judge Karen Vehlow said she did not feel prosecutors had proven Brant’s conduct rose to that legal standard.
Michael Guy, the case’s prosecutor, argued that Brant knew Prokopchuk and the other two children were on the road, and yet he still chose to use his cellphone while driving. Guy argued Brant was grossly negligent by allowing the truck to swerve across the road’s fog line and strike the boy, saying he was “willfully indifferent” to Prokopchuk’s safety.
“He didn’t appreciate the danger that his truck posed,” Guy said in court.
Manweiler argued that even if Brant had taken his eyes off the road momentarily or used his cellphone while driving, he hadn’t been grossly negligent in doing so.
“All (prosecutors) proved is simple negligence,” Manweiler said. “Everybody that drives an automobile occasionally takes their eyes off the road. That’s not illegal. It had terrible consequences here, no doubt about it, and they’re horrible.”
Manweiler said there was no evidence Brant was speeding, or that he meant to hit Prokopchuk. He also argued there is no law in Idaho against using a cellphone while driving. While there is a narrow law against texting and driving specifically, it’s only an infraction.
“No law prohibits using your cellphone while driving,” Manweiler said. “It’s not illegal in Idaho to do that.”
In dismissing the felony charge, Vehlow had to dismiss the full case. She noted she didn’t think it rose to the felony level “even though it is horrible.”
“I still find there’s absolutely probable cause for a misdemeanor complaint,” she said.
Prosecutors could file another complaint against Brant, charging him with either a misdemeanor or a felony.
”Prosecutors are currently carefully reviewing both the evidence in this case and Monday’s preliminary hearing ruling,” Emily Lowe, spokeswoman for the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, wrote in an email to the Idaho Press on Tuesday. “The office is weighing all options on how to proceed in the future with this case.”Manweiler declined to comment to the Idaho Press on Tuesday.