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Escudero faces time in prison

| February 15, 2005 11:00 PM

The suspect who sparked a police chase that led to the death of a Libby teen in 2003 has entered into a plea agreement that includes the dismissal of the most serious charge against him.

William Escudero, 22, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of criminal endangerment and a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in return for the dismissal of charges of negligent homicide, felony theft and driving with a suspended or revoked license. The plea agreement also includes a recommendation for a 10-year sentence with the Montana Department of Corrections with five years suspended.

Both criminal endangerment and felony theft carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The maximum sentence for negligent homicide is 20 years.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 14. In the plea agreement, Escudero reserved the right to withdraw his plea if the court does not impose the recommended sentence.

On the night of Aug. 5, 2003, Escudero was the driver of a car that was pursued by a Lincoln County deputy who then collided with another car driven by 16-year-old Jacob Harris, who was killed in the crash.

According to court documents, Escudero had moved to the Libby area from Florida about a week before the incident. He was staying at his parents¹ house while his parents were on vacation. A neighbor and friend of Escudero¹s parents called 911 and reported that her car had been stolen. The woman later told a police officer that Escudero had asked to borrow the car, but she had refused. She told the officer Escudero must have found the extra set of keys his parents kept in their house.

Police spotted the vehicle on Mineral Avenue. Deputy Richard Larsen of the Lincoln County Sheriff¹s Office pursued the car from Mineral Avenue west on U.S. Highway 2 at high speeds.

According to an investigation by the Montana Highway Patrol, the vehicle driven by Escudero went into a spin on the highway west of the intersection with Indianhead Road. Larsen saw the vehicle spinning and was slowing down as he went into the center turning lane to pass a car driven by Harris, which was in the left westbound lane between Larsen and the car driven by Escudero.

As Larsen began to go around Harris¹s car, it drifted across in front of him into the turning lane. The front right portion of Larsen¹s car hit the rear passenger door of Harris¹ car, and both vehicles traveled across the eastbound lanes until Harris¹ car hit a curb and flipped onto its roof.

Harris was partially ejected through the car¹s sunroof and was pinned under the car. Two 17-year-old girls in the car with Harris suffered minor injuries in the accident and were treated and released at St. John¹s Lutheran Hospital. Larsen also suffered minor injuries and was treated and released.

The reported stolen car was found abandoned where it had come to rest after spinning out of control. Escudero was arrested later in the month in Arizona.

The families of Harris and the two girls injured in the accident have filed civil suits against the county over the incident.