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Driver pleads guilty to vehicular homicide

Thomas Patrick Michel

A 40-year-old South Dakota man pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide Wednesday.

The charges against Thomas Patrick Michel, 40, of Webster, South Dakota, stem from a car crash that took the life of 73-year-old Earl Haugesag Jr. of Ashby nearly two years ago.

According to the Douglas County Attorney's office, Michel, who was driving a 2001 Ford Focus on May 12, 2007, made a left-hand turn in front of Haugesag, who was driving a 2005 Honda motorcycle on County Road 82.

Haugesag's motorcycle then collided with Michel's vehicle.

Michel was originally charged with a lesser degree of criminal vehicular operation, but after Haugesag died two and half months later as a result of his injuries, the charges were amended to criminal vehicular homicide.

At the plea hearing, after Michel was sworn in, he admitted that he had been drinking beer and whiskey while fishing prior to driving and acknowledged that the results of his blood alcohol test, which showed an alcohol concentration of .15, were accurate, according to a report from the county attorney's office.

His alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

During the plea hearing, Michel stated that he never even saw the oncoming motorcycle, but agreed that the evidence showed he turned into the path of Haugesag, who, according to authorities, had the right of way.

Judge David Battey accepted the plea in Douglas County District Court Wednesday and ordered a pre-sentence investigation. Sentencing is set for April 20 at 1:45 p.m.

If convicted, Michel could serve up to 41 months - nearly three and a half years - in state prison.