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State of Montana v. Kamla L. Bekemans

January 22, 2013


APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, In and For the County of Beaverhead, Cause No. DC 10-3335 Honorable Loren Tucker, Presiding Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Mike McGrath

Submitted on Briefs: October 2, 2012

Decided: January 22, 2013



Chief Justice Mike McGrath delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Kamla L. Bekemans (Bekemans) appeals from her convictions in the Fifth Judicial District Court, Beaverhead County, of felony criminal endangerment; failing to use a lamp on a parked vehicle; failure to carry flares or other warning devices; failure to display warning devices on a disabled vehicle; operating a vehicle without insurance; and failure to park as close as practicable to the edge of the shoulder. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

¶2 Bekemans presents the following issues for review:

¶3 Issue One: Whether sufficient evidence supports Bekemans' criminal endangerment conviction.

¶4 Issue Two: Whether Bekemans was denied her right to be personally present at all critical stages of the trial.

¶5 Issue Three: Whether Bekemans was denied effective assistance of counsel.

¶6 Issue Four: Whether the District Court violated Bekemans' constitutional rights by basing its sentence in part on her refusal to acknowledge guilt.

¶7 Issue Five: Whether the District Court had the authority to restrict Bekemans' eligibility for parole.


¶8 Brandon Davis (Davis) was killed in the early morning hours of July 28, 2009, when the vehicle that he was driving collided with a small bus parked in the middle of Interstate 15 (I-15). Bekemans had been driving the bus home to Livingston after purchasing it in Utah when it began to chug, slow down, and lose power intermittently. Bekemans had a mechanic at a truck stop near Idaho Falls examine the bus, but the mechanic could not identify the problem. After having difficulty crossing Monida Pass, the bus again started slowing down and chugging near mile marker thirty-two, south of Dillon. Instead of safely pulling the bus onto the shoulder of the road on the dark, moonless night, Bekemans stopped the bus in the middle of the right, northbound lane of traffic.

¶9 Bekemans' attempts to restart the bus failed. After stopping the bus, Bekemans turned the engine off and then tried to restart the bus. When she turned the key, however, the "Wait to Start" light came on that is common to vehicles with diesel engines. Not knowing that she simply had to wait a couple of seconds for the light to extinguish before cranking the engine, Bekemans turned the key to the off position.

¶10 Bekemans failed to deploy standard warning devices after she failed to restart the bus. Bekemans was not carrying flares or emergency reflective triangles. She did not know how to activate her hazard lights. Upon finding herself parked in the middle of the interstate highway on a dark night without any warning devices deployed, Bekemans decided to turn the bus's lights off. She told people on the scene after the crash that she had turned her lights off to conserve battery power. She claimed that she turned them back on whenever she saw a car approaching.

¶11 Bekemans had failed to turn her lights on to warn approaching drivers before the collision, however. Michael Twilleager (Twilleager) passed Bekemans' bus while it was parked in the middle of the interstate. Twilleager, a professional driver for a transportation company, had been driving a large passenger van north on I-15 on the night of the crash.

About a mile before reaching Bekemans, Twilleager saw two pairs of taillights in front of him. Twilleager watched the vehicle in the left lane pull away from the other vehicle, and then the taillights in the right lane disappeared. Twilleager mistakenly assumed that the vehicle had pulled onto the shoulder of the road. As he approached, Bekemans' lights remained off. Twilleager saw Bekemans' bus in his lane at the last moment. He was able to narrowly avoid a collision by swerving into the left lane. He immediately called 9-1-1 to warn of the situation.

ΒΆ12 Jeff Buchman (Buchman), a professional truck driver, also passed Bekemans' bus on the night of the crash. Buchman saw what appeared to be flashing lights come on in the right lane as three trucks approached Bekemans' bus a ways in front of him. He watched as the three trucks put on their left turn signals and went around the flashing lights. After the three trucks had passed, the flashing lights disappeared. Buchman heard the drivers talking to each other on their CB radios, so he knew that a vehicle was in the road. Buchman slowed down to forty-five miles per hour and approached with his bright headlights on. Even so, Buchman did not see the bus in front of him until Bekemans turned her lights back on when he was one-quarter of a mile away. Buchman moved ...

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