A number of factors convinced a judge that the North Dakota man charged with aggravated vehicular homicide acted recklessly and should face District Court. The defendant’s alleged consumption of “Scooby Snax” was one of them.
Ryan M. Nordstrom appeared in Natrona County Circuit Court on Tuesday for a preliminary hearing to establish whether his actions warranted a felony charge.
On Oct. 20, officials say Nordstrom’s Chevrolet Cruze rear-ended a U-Haul trailer being towed by a Ford pickup while both vehicles were southbound on Interstate 25, north of Bar Nunn. The impact caused the pickup to cross into the oncoming lane and flip over. The wreck killed 27-year-old Daniel Barto, who was moving his family from Montana to Texas.
At Nordstrom’s hearing, the state first called David Hulshizer, a deputy with the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, who relayed what several witnesses said about Nordstrom’s driving and demeanor after the crash.
Hulshizer said witnesses described the defendant as driving recklessly just minutes before the crash, almost running into one vehicle and cutting off another. They additionally said he was very “lethargic” after the crash, one commenting that it seemed Nordstrom had just “come out of a very deep sleep.”
Upon Assistant District Attorney Dan Itzen’s questioning, the deputy also said that several packages of “Scooby Snax,” a synthetic marijuana, were found in the vehicle.
However, Nordstrom’s attorney, Kurt Infanger, argued that the substance has not been proven to be illegal, and in fact advertises that it is legal in all 50 states. Hulshizer conceded that he did not know whether the substance was illegal, saying that would have to be determined in the lab.
The state additionally called Jason Sawdon, a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper and crash scene investigator, to the stand. Sawdon stated that one-half second before impact, Nordstrom’s vehicle was at 100 percent throttle.
Itzen said this reinforced what witnesses had already told officers — that his driving behavior was reckless and “there was simply no braking applied at all to this vehicle.”
Infanger argued that since the charge depends exclusively on whether his client's actions were reckless, the state had an extreme burden to meet in order to establish probable cause.
“Mere speed alone is not enough to call it reckless,” he said, adding that his client could have nodded off from a lack of sleep or just been distracted.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Patchen agreed with the state and said that a combination of the speed, a lack of sleep, and the defendant’s consumption of a substance that he knew to cause drowsiness were enough for the state to meet its burden. He agreed to bind the case over to District Court.
Nordstrom’s parents sat in on the hearing, and asked Patchen to allow their son to come home with them to Michigan to await trial. Patchen permitted it, but ordered the defendant submit to daily urinalyses and to not leave the house without the company of a parent.
“I don’t take this lightly, and I hope you don’t either,” he told Nordstrom’s mother and father. “He’s on a very short leash.”