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Manslaughter defendant is free on bond

Posted 10/04/16 (Tue)

Manslaughter defendant is free on bond

By Cecile Wehrman
A Florida man charged with three counts of manslaughter in an August construction zone accident posted bond Thursday, following a hearing in Crosby.
William G. Koehler, 49, appeared in district court with counsel Tom Slorby, Minot, after Koehler turned himself in for booking at the Divide County Sheriff’s office.
Divide County State’s Attorney Seymour Jordan asked for a bond of $30,000, cash or surety, but Judge Josh Rustad ultimately reduced that amount to $15,000.
Jordan argued $30,000 was appropriate given the potential penalties of three Class B felonies, and taking into consideration Koehler’s “limited” criminal history and the fact he did turn himself in.
According to charging documents, a witness alleges Koehler failed to slow down as he approached the spot where Les Gunderson had stopped his car at the direction of a construction zone flagger, a few miles east of Crosby. Koehler allegedly admitted using his cell phone prior to the accident, in which Les Gunderson and two daughters were killed, after their car was struck from behind.
Slorby said his client has been aware for “several weeks” that charges were likely and he retained legal counsel in advance.  
During the time between the Aug. 23 accident and the Sept. 23 filing, Slorby said his client “was legally free to go anywhere out of the country, but he stayed here.”
Further, Slorby insisted that Koehler’s cooperation should serve as an indication that a personal recognizance bond would be more appropriate. Also, given that no chemical or alcohol consumption was involved, the risk to public safety “has no application here.”
Jordan confirmed, “There is no allegation of substance abuse.”
“Bond is supposed to be the exception to the rule,” said Slorby, and imposing it is “like suggesting he’s been waiting to flee.”
Given the seriousness of the charges, however, Rustad said, “I am not comfortable with any type of personal recognizance bond.”
Prior to setting the bond amount, Rustad went over the potential penalties of the charges, including a sentencing requirement.
“If you were convicted of one or more of these offenses, you would be required to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence,” Rustad said. 
Koehler indicated he understood the consequences.
Slorby informed the court his client is already set to appear in an unrelated civil action in Florida between Oct. 9 and 16. Rustad said that will be permissible.
“I am not going to put any restriction in the order. He will be able to leave without prior court approval,” said Rustad.
A preliminary hearing on the Divide County charges is set for 11 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 27, in Crosby.
Following the court session, Koehler was briefly taken to Williston, where he was able to arrange surety from a bondsman in exchange for 10 percent payment -- in this case, $1,500.