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Judge orders further prosecution in Fowler death

Authorities allege woman killed because of ’gross negligence’

by TERRY SMITH

Byrus Lyndon Gatewood

Idaho State Police estimate that a Utah truck driver was traveling at 63.74 miles per hour last summer when his 18-wheeler slammed into a line of vehicles stopped in a construction zone northwest of Jerome, causing the death of well-known Hailey philanthropist Dayle Evan Fowler.

The information was provided by Cpl. Troy Debie, an ISP accident reconstruction specialist, at a preliminary hearing Friday in Jerome County Magistrate Court for 45-year-old Byrus Lyndon Gatewood on a felony charge of vehicular manslaughter. At the conclusion of the three-hour hearing, Judge Thomas H. Borresen ruled that sufficient evidence existed against Gatewood to bind the case over to 5th District Court for further prosecution.

In testimony, ISP investigators said Gatewood was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, nor was he using a cell phone, when he caused the crash that killed 62-year-old Fowler last June 28 about three miles north of the intersection of U.S. Highways 93 and 25. Instead, the officers testified that Gatewood was driving well in excess of the posted 45 mph speed limit, that he ignored posted construction zone warning signs and that he was not paying attention to the road when the accident occurred.

Gatewood's legal counsel, Boise attorney Charles F. Peterson, acknowledged that his client was driving inattentively, but argued that the construction zone was not well marked and that his client's actions did not warrant the filing of a felony charge.

Gatewood, of West Valley, Utah, was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter under an Idaho statute that requires a finding of gross negligence in an accident causing death.

In ordering that the case be transferred to district court, Judge Borresen ruled that the question of gross negligence could be determined by a jury.

Gatewood's arraignment was scheduled for Feb. 6 before Jerome County 5th District Court Judge John K. Butler, who will set a trial date if Gatewood pleads not guilty.

Gatewood has remained free on $25,000 bond since being charged with the crime in October.

Dayle Evan Fowler

Formerly from the Seattle area, Fowler had lived in the Wood River Valley for about eight years prior to her death. She was well known as a philanthropist in Blaine County, donating both her time and money to numerous nonprofit organizations.

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On the day she was killed, Fowler was northbound on Highway 93, driving a 2003 Lexus SUV, when she encountered road construction and stopped in a line of vehicles waiting for a flagger to signal them through. She got out of her vehicle and was near the rear of her Lexus when the accident occurred.

Hailey resident Jeffrey Bacon testified at Friday's hearing that he was stopped immediately in front of Fowler when through his side mirror he saw her get out of her car.

"I saw the hatch on the back door go up," Bacon said. "Actually, I thought she was probably getting something to drink."

Bacon said he then saw a "red truck approaching" the stopped vehicles at a high rate of speed.

"I turned to my girlfriend and said: 'Here it comes, here it comes,'" he said.

Gatewood was northbound, driving a Volvo tractor-trailer rig owned by Watkins and Shepard Trucking, headquartered in Missoula, Mont.

ISP Sgt. Kent Oliver testified that Gatewood had picked up a loaded trailer in Ogden, Utah, the previous day, had then made a delivery in Twin Falls and was headed north with a load to be delivered in the Wood River Valley.

Oliver said Gatewood made routine trips to the Wood River Valley and should have been familiar with ongoing construction on the highway last summer.

"He makes this trip weekly, so he'd been through this area before," Oliver said.

ISP Cpl. Andrew Hitt testified that the accident "occurred in a clearly marked construction zone" and on a clear day with unrestricted visibility.

After investigating the accident and interviewing witnesses, Hitt said he concluded that "Mr. Gatewood was not paying adequate attention to the roadway in time to stop for Ms. Fowler and her vehicle."

Hitt testified that he also interviewed Gatewood.

"He said he looked down, was adjusting his radio and then looked up and saw the cars."

Cpl. Debie testified that he calculated the speed of impact at 63.74 mph by measuring the distance the Lexus was knocked by the collision.

Debie said skid marks from the Gatewood truck were measured at 125.5 feet from the point of impact, indicating that Gatewood was traveling even faster than 63.74 mph before he applied the brakes.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com



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