Bills guilty in crash that killed two

Judge rules 21-year-old Dayton man was texting

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson

Colten Bills, 21, of Dayton, left, listens as Chief District Judge Kurt Wilke prepares to announce his verdict in Webster County District Court Monday afternoon. Bills’ attorneys, Derek Johnson, center, and Charles Kenville, right, listen with him.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Colten Bills, 21, of Dayton, left, listens as Chief District Judge Kurt Wilke prepares to announce his verdict in Webster County District Court Monday afternoon. Bills’ attorneys, Derek Johnson, center, and Charles Kenville, right, listen with him.

Colten Bills was distracted by texting when he got into a crash that killed two people in May 2015.

That ruling was made Monday by Chief District Court Judge Kurt Wilke during a hearing in Webster County District Court.

Bills, 21, of Dayton, was found guilty of two counts of homicide by vehicle by reckless driving, both class C felonies.

The ruling came nearly a month after Bills’ bench trial on Dec. 13.

In his decision, Wilke said the evidence proved that Bills was distracted by texting on the morning of May 8, 2015, when he crashed his pickup truck into a car at the intersection of Iowa Highway 75 and Samson Avenue.

The collision killed David Castenson, 56, of Harcourt, and his mother, Velma Castenson, 85, of Dayton.

Defense attorneys had argued that texting while driving is not classified as reckless behavior by the Iowa Legislature and that law enforcement can’t pull over a vehicle for texting while driving.

However, Wilke said to convict someone of reckless driving there are three factors that must be met.

One is that the defendant intentionally operated a motor vehicle. The second is that the vehicle was being operated in a manner which created an unreasonable risk of harm to others. And the third is that the risk should have been known to the driver.

“Here, the defendant’s diverted attention was self-imposed,” Wilke said. “His diversion was intentional in addition to the fact the defendant was familiar with the roadway upon which he was driving.”

Wilke said the evidence shows that Bills was further distracted by not only running a stop sign, but also by apparently ignoring the sign that warned the stop sign was ahead.

There’s also no evidence to suggest that Bills tried braking his vehicle or swerving out of his way to avoid the Castensons, Wilke said.

“A mere scintilla of attention to his driving should have alerted the defendant to the stop sign,” Wilke said.

Going further, Wilke said there were no obvious distractions that would have caused Bills to look away from the road.

“Clearly, this was not a case of momentary inattention,” he said, comparing the crash to a hypothetical situation where Bills was driving while blindfolded, saying that “conduct would be considered fraught with a high degree of danger.”

“That’s exactly what the defendant did by intentionally diverting his attention from driving to texting and the result was disastrous.”

Nate Sedlacek, a Castenson family spokesman, said the family was pleased with Wilke’s decision.

“There’s still a long way to go in the process,” Sedlacek said. “We’ve waited a long time and we’ve got a little more waiting to get to the final stages. But we agree with the judge.”

John Wolfe, another family spokesman, agreed.

“Obviously today was one step in the direction that we were kind of hoping this would go,” Wolfe said. “It’s still a long road ahead as far as healing. But, again, this is something obviously that we feel is right and we just got to keep moving forward.”

Webster County Attorney Jennifer Benson said she was also happy with the verdict.

“I know it’s been tough,” she said. “It’s been a long process and we are thrilled to see that justice has been done.”

Attempts to reach Bills’ attorneys, Derek Johnson and Charles Kenville, both of Fort Dodge, were unsuccessful following the hearing Monday.

Bills’ sentencing has been set for Feb. 13.

He will continue to remain free on bond pending his sentencing.

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