Woman pleads guilty to negligent homicide

Christol Williamson, 56, of Butte wipes tears away Friday after pleading guilty to negligent homicide in the death of Dan Lean on Dec. 6, 2017, on Amherst Avenue in Butte.

A woman wept softly Friday while pleading guilty to negligent homicide for hitting and killing a longtime Butte teacher and coach with her car as he walked along Amherst Avenue.

But unlike typical cases involving plea changes, 56-year-old Christol Riddle Williamson pleaded guilty in the December 2017 death of Dan Lean, 76, without any pretrial agreement with prosecutors. She had previously pleaded not guilty.

Without an agreement, Mike Clague, the chief prosecutor in the case, and Walter Hennessey, Williamson’s public defender, will argue over Williamson’s fate when she is sentenced by District Judge Kurt Krueger. Negligent homicide is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.

Krueger ordered a presentence investigation to be conducted on Williamson before he sets a sentencing date.

While admitting during the brief hearing Thursday to striking Lean with her car, Williamson began to cry softly and at one point paused to take a deep breath.

There were numerous family members of Lean’s in the courtroom, and Clague talked privately with them before and after the hearing. Williamson was again released on her own recognizance pending sentencing.

Prosecutors say Williamson was driving on the shoulder without headlights on when she struck Lean before sunrise around 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 6, 2017, while he was walking the 2900 block of Amherst Avenue.

Lean, a dedicated walker, was wearing reflective clothing and walking in a parking lane when Williamson struck him with her vehicle, police said. His head struck the windshield, and he was immediately unresponsive afterwards.

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An officer at the scene did not detect any symptoms of impairment, but Williamson did say she had taken prescribed medications, including Adderall, an amphetamine stimulant. She was driving to work at a Butte nursing home when the crash occurred.

Toxicology reports from a crime lab later showed that Williamson had amphetamine and Zolpidem, a sedative to help people sleep, in her blood, according to the charging document. A review of cellphone records showed she was not using her phone at the time of the crash.

Willamson told an officer that she only turned her car lights off right after the accident, but an eyewitness said she was driving in the shoulder with her lights off. Surveillance video from a nearby business also showed that to be the case.

Lean had a long teaching and coaching career in Butte that included time at East Junior High School, West Junior High School, Butte High School, and Butte Central High School.

He routinely walked in the Amherst area with a reflective coat on.

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Government and politics reporter

Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.

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