Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Fredback will not bring any criminal charges against the driver who fatally struck East Fork resident Dylan Heuring along state Highway 75 in October, Fredback said in a Dec. 30 letter.
The letter—addressed to Blaine County Sheriff’s Office Detective Steve Hansen and shared with the Express on Jan. 7—summarizes the collision and explains why Fredback will not pursue felony hit-and-run or vehicular manslaughter charges against the driver.
Heuring, 30, a Triumph resident, was hit near the intersection of Golden Eagle Drive and state Highway 75, about 5 miles north of Hailey, shortly after midnight on Oct. 12. Deputies were dispatched to the intersection around 12:30 a.m. after a 911 call came in about a person lying deceased in the northbound lane. Heuring was pronounced dead at the scene by Blaine County Coroner Russ Mikel.
A subsequent investigation by the Sheriff's Office showed that Heuring had been walking north on Highway 75 toward East Fork Road, where he had parked his truck, after leaving a friend’s home about a half-mile south of the collision, Fredback stated.
"Evidence observed at the scene suggested that Heuring was walking in the roadway within the northbound right lane of travel when he was struck from behind. He was wearing a black sweatshirt with a hood," The Dec. 30 letter states. The police also located headphones and a phone on the roadway, Fredback said.
According to Fredback, the driver who struck Heuring was a Sun Valley resident returning home from Boise. The man reportedly left the scene of the accident, believing he had hit a deer; he later cooperated with law enforcement.
Because vehicle parts found at the scene and Heuring’s injuries indicated that Heuring had been struck by a vehicle, first responders throughout the valley were immediately put on the lookout for a vehicle with front-end damage, Fredback said. Then, 30 minutes after the collision, a Sun Valley Police Department officer observed a pickup truck in the Sun Valley Inn parking lot with a warm hood, "substantial front-end damage" and “liquid leaking from underneath the vehicle." The vehicle was traced to a Sun Valley resident.
Once located, the owner of the truck told investigators that he had been traveling about 50 mph in the right northbound lane when he saw a “black object suddenly appear" in front of his truck, hit what he believed was a deer, slowed to 30 mph and continued north, Fredback wrote.
The driver also texted his mother that he had just hit a deer and sent his insurance company an email reiterating that same information shortly after the accident, according to Fredback. He further told investigators that he may have been "fiddling" with heater settings shortly before the collision.
"He reported that he struck the object, and then drove slowly while looking in the rear-view mirror to see what he had hit ... he did not see anything in the roadway," Fredback wrote. "When asked why he didn’t stop, [the driver] said he was afraid his truck wouldn’t continue running if he stopped."
At his residence, the driver submitted to field sobriety tests and a breath sample, which did not detect any alcohol. He also agreed to send a blood sample to the Idaho State Lab. The blood draw later confirmed tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), THC metabolites and Kratom, a psychoactive herb, in the man's system.
Idaho sets no benchmark to constitute "under the influence of marijuana," though Fredback said there was not evidence to prove the driver was impaired.
"[An officer] specifically reported that he did not observe any signs of impairment shortly after the collision," Fredback said.
Fredback wrote that he would not proceed with a felony hit-and-run charge because the driver had “immediately and repeatedly” stated that he thought he had hit an animal when contacted by law enforcement and there was simply "not enough evidence" to prove that he was aware that the collision had killed Heuring.
“Anyone who is familiar with that area of Highway 75 knows that wildlife is rampant. It is not uncommon for the most attentive drivers to hit an elk or a deer in the dark," Fredback stated."A black object appearing for a second before a collision could easily have been mistaken for an animal.”
Fredback said he will also not be charging the driver with vehicular manslaughter because that charge requires driver to have operated a vehicle inattentively, carelessly or imprudently.
"The only evidence is that he was 'fiddling' with his heater moments before seeing the black object. There is a weak argument that adjusting his heater diverted [his] attention," Fredback stated. "The next element of vehicular manslaughter requires that the unlawful manner, adjusting his heater, was a significant cause contributing to [Heuring's] death.
"I do not believe there is sufficient evidence that this momentary distraction was a significant cause leading to the death of Mr. Heuring."
A further accident reconstruction by the BCSO and analysis of the truck's headlight output under similar lighting conditions confirmed that it was "extremely unlikely" that the driver could have avoided the collision, he noted.
“The investigation concluded that ... traveling at a speed of 50 mph, [the driver] would have approximately one second from the time the black object could be observed until impact," Fredback stated.
Fredback ultimately concluded that Heuring's position on the roadway, black clothing and the fact that he appeared to be listening to music through headphones were factors in his death.
“The death of Mr. Heuring is tragic. Despite a thorough investigation, there are many questions that remain unanswered," he stated. "However, the evidence that Mr. Heuring was walking in the lane of travel on a highway in the dark while wearing black clothing creates an insurmountable challenge in proving that driver had the requisite inattention and or knowledge required to charge a crime."