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Attorney for Driver in Fatal Hillview Way Crash Comments on Sentence [AUDIO]

Justin Barber Sentenced on Thursday for Hillview Way Crash
photo by Peter Christian

On March 4, 2012, while he was driving drunk and under the influence of drugs, Justin Barber crashed his vehicle with three young men inside down a steep embankment off Hillview Way, resulting in the death of two of his best friends and severely injuring a third. Barber was sentenced Thursday morning in Missoula District Court.

Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jennifer Clark said the charges against Barber included negligent vehicular homicide while under the influence and negligent vehicular assault.

“”The state entered into a plea bargain with the defense that basically capped the state’s recommendation at 40 years with 30 years suspended, with 10 years to be spent in the Montana State Prison,” Clark said.

Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jennifer Clark

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Prominent attorney Milton Datsopoulos represented Barber at his sentencing on Thursday, where one witness and her plea for mercy for the defendant made a difference in his ultimate sentence.

“The mother of one of the kids who was killed in the accident (Mrs. Gruebele) appeared in court on her own and requested that the judge not send Justin barber to prison, that would further damage him and prevent his rehabilitation. She wanted the judge to consider some type of alternative facility that would provide treatment, and I think that was a very major persuasive factor,” Datsopoulos said.

Killed in the crash were Jason McDonald, 20, and Joshua Gruebele, 18. Nic Von Platz, 22 was critically injured.

District Judge Ed McClean sentenced Barber to five years with the Department of Corrections, with 40 years suspended.

“I was really pleased and impressed with Judge McLean’s sentence in this case. He really accepts the concept that if prison can be avoided, but they can still receive appropriate punishment in a facility that provides treatment, then he will probably keep him out of prison in the future,” Datsopoulos added.

“I think this was a very well thought-out decision that may hopefully also be influential in other courts involving young people that get in trouble,”Datsopoulos said.

Judge McLean imposed severe restrictions on Barber during sentencing that he would serve the entire sentence if he is ever caught again using alcohol or drugs.

Datsopoulos said his client is eager to speak to other young people to keep them from making the same mistakes.

“The two boys who died and the boy who was injured were his closest friends, they were like brothers. Justin feels that one way he can honor his friends and also do some good is to go to high schools and colleges and just say ‘look, let me give you my experiences, It is not worth ever taking the chance drinking, taking drugs and driving. You will be severely punished and you’ll never forgive yourself when something happens like what happened to my friends’,” Datsopoulos concluded.

Attorney Milton Datsopoulos

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