Trial date set for trucker charged

Clark L. Christensen, 58, Shelley, Idaho, waived his right to a preliminary hearing, which summarizes the factual basis for a case to see if there is enough evidence to go to trial, and went straight into arraignment and a second bond review Tuesday afternoon.

Christensen is charged with manslaughter, a Class B felony, for a May 16 major traffic accident that resulted in the crushing death of Megan Shoal, 21, Plentywood, Mont.

Christensen has been in the Ward County Jail 93 days as of Tuesday.

The crash happened at the intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and the U.S. Highway 83 Bypass near Minot and involved eight vehicles, with three additional injuries.

Christensen, represented by his attorney, Thomas Gunderson of the North Dakota Public Defenders’ Minot office, answered each of Northwest District Judge Gary Lee’s initial questions with a clear and steady voice, but appeared uncomfortable. Shoal’s family and that of her longtime boyfriend were all seated in the courtroom, watching quietly.

After the preliminary hearing was waived, Gunderson moved into reading his evidence for reducing bond from $75,000 cash or corporate surety, set on Sept. 17 by Judge Douglas Mattson, to a requested $10,000 cash or corporate surety. The requested bond level is the new standard for Class B felonies following recent changes in the system, before it was $5,000.

Of first concern to Gunderson is that bond, which was originally set at $250,000 by Judge Gary Lee at the Aug. 30 preliminary hearing before the first bond hearing reduced it, was set so high due to what he perceived was a false threat of fleeing.

While Christensen did go back to Idaho after the accident, he wasn’t fleeing because he didn’t know that he was charged with anything serious. While in Idaho, Christensen asserts that he heard that an arrest warrant had been issued for him in North Dakota and immediately returned to turn himself in. This, in Gunderson’s estimation, means that Christensen has no intention to run from his charges.

Having the bond reduced would allow Christensen, who was referred to as both “indigent” and a “poor man” throughout the review, a chance to gain a job in the area.

A letter Christensen wrote to Lee on Oct. 14 indicates that there is a “man camp” in Stanley that can use his maintenance skills so that he can pay various debts, including a recent hospital bill.

Prosecutor Christene Reierson, an assistant state’s attorney for Ward County, countered that he has no employment or family ties to the community whatsoever, or termed “zero” by Lee, and that all of the arguments made by Gunderson, except for the possibility of employment, had already been heard at the first bond review and that nothing substantial had newly been put forward.

Lee agreed.

“I think a substantial bond is appropriate,” Lee said. “Basically if all this is is a do-over, I’m not going to do it over.”

A pretrial conference was scheduled for Jan. 15 at 9:30 a.m.