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State v. Montiel

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division

October 25, 2016

STATE OF MISSOURI, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
MICHELE LYNN MONTIEL, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY Honorable Laura J. Johnson Judge.

         AFFIRMED

         Michele Lynn Montiel ("Defendant") appeals from her convictions for one count of second-degree assault and one count of leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident. Defendant claims (1) the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction for second-degree assault because there was no evidence her actions were reckless; (2) the trial court erred in failing to sua sponte instruct the jury to disregard the prosecutor's comment that Defendant's attorney committed an ethical violation; and (3) the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction for leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident because there was no evidence she knew injury or property damage had occurred. Defendant's arguments are without merit, and the trial court's judgment is affirmed.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         This Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's judgment. State v. Wilson, 333 S.W.3d 526, 527 (Mo. App. S.D. 2011). So viewed, the following facts were proven at trial.

         Charles Rickard ("Victim") was horseback riding along Blue Springs Road with his friend Brad Rozell ("Mr. Rozell") around sunset on October 21, 2011. Victim and his horse, Poco, were about 4 feet off the roadway when they were hit from behind by a minivan. Mr. Rozell, who was riding another horse ahead of Victim, heard an explosive sound. He saw the minivan and established eye contact with the female driver who slowed initially before speeding away. Mr. Rozell then found Victim injured and unconscious lying half on and half off the road. Poco was also unconscious and clearly injured.

         Dustin Lawson arrived on the scene and parked his car to provide protection for Victim from oncoming cars. Mark Moore arrived next on the scene, finding there was enough light that he could see the entire road, the surrounding area, and observe the injured man and horse.

         Emergency personnel then arrived. Victim had a crushed skull, shattered wrist, and five or six broken ribs. Poco's numerous injuries included a broken leg, and he had to be euthanized. Mr. Rozell gave law enforcement officers a description of the minivan and the female driver.

         The 911 call was received at 7:07 p.m. Highway Patrol Trooper Amanda Kahler ("Trooper Kahler") arrived, just after sunset, at 7:23 p.m. Headlights were still not necessary to see. She found a 21-foot skid mark, streaks of horse manure where it appeared the horse had been dragged by the vehicle, some scraps of silver or gray paint, and the passenger-side rearview mirror from a vehicle. The debris trail was approximately 104 feet long.

         Shortly after ten that evening, Defendant contacted the police. Trooper Kahler was dispatched to Defendant's home. Defendant told Trooper Kahler she had hit an animal in the area but until she saw a story on the ten o'clock news about a horse and rider being hit, she did not realize she might have been the driver in that accident. There was a silver Dodge Caravan parked in the driveway. The minivan had suffered extensive damage. The passenger-side rear view mirror was missing. The passenger side of the front windshield was shattered and protruded into the vehicle. There was horse hair, blood, flesh, and manure all over the minivan, including a chunk of flesh stuck in the luggage rack on the top of the vehicle. The headlight assembly was broken, and the fender had been torn away. A portion of the horse's tail was stuck in the headlight assembly. There was broken glass and manure inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle as well.

         Trooper Kahler found a dish cloth in the headlight assembly. When she inquired of Defendant, Defendant said she had tried to wipe off the vehicle when she got home. Defendant said there was "horse hair and tissue and blood all over" and that "it was disgusting." At that point, Trooper Kahler asked Defendant if she had been drinking, and Defendant stated she had two beers at around 2:30 in the afternoon. Defendant showed one indicator of intoxication on the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and smelled faintly of alcohol. Defendant began to cry and said she had hit a horse. Defendant said "she never did see a rider" and gave no explanation for why she did not stop.

         Defendant was charged with second-degree assault and leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident. Defendant had a jury trial on April 13 through 15, 2015. The State adduced the evidence summarized above.

         Defendant adduced evidence that deer-vehicle collisions were common and that "colliding with a deer can cause serious property damage to a vehicle." Then Defendant testified that at the time of the collision it was dark and she had her headlights on. She heard a "loud thump" and looked back to see what she had hit, but did not see anything. She assumed she had hit a deer and continued driving. She testified she did not realize she had hit a horse and rider until she saw the story on the ten o'clock news.

         The jury found Defendant guilty, and the trial court sentenced her as a prior offender to five years' imprisonment for second-degree assault and four years' imprisonment for leaving ...


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