LEGAL

Charges in crash that killed 3 should not have been dismissed, Utah appeals court says

Nov 24, 2022, 6:23 PM
The Utah Court of Appeals has reversed a decision by a judge to dismiss charges against a driver ac...
The Utah Court of Appeals has reversed a decision by a judge to dismiss charges against a driver accused of causing a 2020 crash that killed three people in San Juan County. (Utah Highway Patrol)
(Utah Highway Patrol)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Court of Appeals has sent a case back to the 7th District Court, ruling that the court had made an error in dismissing a case regarding the cause of a head-on crash with three fatalities.

Toni Dannelle Glosenger, 53, was charged in May 2020 with three counts of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, and driving on the wrong side of the roadway, an infraction.

The charges were dismissed on Feb. 1, 2021, after Judge Don Torgerson ruled there was not enough evidence for the case to move forward to trial, the appellate court’s opinion explains. It said the judge determined prosecutors had not introduced any evidence to prove that Glosenger “was criminally reckless.”

Police say Glosenger was driving her truck in San Juan County when her truck veered onto the other side of the two-lane highway in August 2019, hitting an SUV which was towing a boat.

The collision killed both people in the SUV, Kenneth Harding, 75, and Frances Harding, 73, of Goodman, Arizona, as well as a passenger in Glosenger’s truck, 68-year-old Patricia Storm, of Minot, North Dakota, and a cat.

Glosenger was left with serious injuries and was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado.

The Court of Appeals opinion said markings on the road and damage to the cars showed it was a “front passenger to front passenger” collision that occurred in the northbound lane — there were no skid marks on the southbound side where Glosenger’s truck had been traveling.

A report cited in the opinion said Glosenger was driving 67.2 mph about 5 seconds before the collision, just over the 65 mph speed limit, but did not slow down and was driving 68 mph at the time of the collision. This lack of spikes or drops in speed is not consistent with drowsy driving, the report said.

The report also showed a sharp turn to the left in the last three-tenths of a second before the impact on a straight section of the road, the opinion said. Distracted driving was cited in the report as a possible reason for the swerve, although there were no incoming calls or texts and it is unknown if Glosenger’s phone was being used at the time of the crash.

An agent who previously testified in the case said that while at the hospital, Glosenger did not remember any details about the crash, but months later she told the agent she was attempting to pass a semitruck when the lane ended and she decided to go into oncoming traffic to try to cross the road. The agent explained, in testimony cited in the opinion, that witness statements, information from the car and photographs of the scene did not support this story.

With all of this information, the charges were not bound over in the district court after Torgerson said there were multiple options that could show recklessness, but they were all speculative.

The district court said Glosenger’s phone conversation with the agent shows she was aware and disregarded the risk of harm — choosing not to brake and slow down.

“The magistrate recognized the collision was caused when Glosenger ‘cross(ed) the middle line,’ but concluded that because there was ‘no explanation for it,’ a crime had not been committed. But this conclusion ignores the information Glosenger provided to (the agent) during their phone call after the collision,” the Court of Appeals said.

The appellate court judges said there is evidence of flaws in her story, but because there is a low bar for charges to pass the preliminary hearing stage and the judge should make inferences in favor of the state, the evidence is enough to move the charges forward to a trial.

“The state was not required to prove the specific reason Glosenger decided to turn into oncoming traffic; it needed to prove only that she was aware of and consciously disregarded the risk of harm to herself and others by doing so,” the opinion states.

The appellate judges said evidence that was presented could support a verdict in Glosenger’s favor at a jury trial, but they ruled the preliminary hearing burden was met and the case should move forward to trial.

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Charges in crash that killed 3 should not have been dismissed, Utah appeals court says