Hearing begins in hit-and-run death case
Family and friends of Tracy Freer packed the third floor courtroom at the Stark County Courthouse on Monday during a preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence against the man accused of striking the motel owner.
Timothy J. Menges, 48, a Missouri native who lives in Dickinson, allegedly confessed to the Dickinson Police Department on March 3 that he believed he struck and ultimately killed Freer on Nov. 21, Police Investigator Travis Leintz said during his testimony at Monday's hearing in front of Judge Dann Greenwood.
"We have established the death of Tracy Freer, we have established the apparent cause of death, we have established a level of care that's far below that necessary under the circumstances," said Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning, prosecutor for the case.
Greenwood felt there was enough evidence to proceed with the legal process. Further court dates will be set.
Menges first plead guilty, but with the help of his attorney quickly changed his plea to not guilty to negligent homicide, a Class C felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.
"As unfortunate as the death of Mr. Freer is, I don't believe this rises to the level of negligence and does not warrant the charges that are being presented," said Ryan A. Heintz, Menges' attorney from Bismarck.
Other than pleading, Menges did not speak.
Police were led to Menges though a female friend to whom he allegedly confided that he believed he was the one that hit Tracy Freer, Leintz said.
He interviewed the friend on March 3 and Menges on March 4, who was arrested after the discussion.
"He was the only one there, he was the only one that knew what happened," Leintz said.
On the morning in question, shortly before 1 a.m. Nov. 21, Menges allegedly left Champs Sports Bar after an evening of playing pool and drinking, Leintz said. He told police in March that he had four to five beers and four to five whiskey colas that evening.
Menges allegedly drove across the street to the Queen City Motel to make sure a friend who was staying there made it home safe, Leintz said. While he was entering the parking lot, which drives around what used to be a pool, he saw a small dog run across the road.
After checking the friend's motel room from his vehicle, Menges continued making the loop around the old pool and encountered Freer near the offices before exiting, Leintz said. He allegedly rolled down his window to talk to Freer, who was angry that Menges almost ran over his dog.
After being accosted by Freer, Menges allegedly decided to leave the parking lot, Leintz said. While this was going on, Freer's dog leapt from his arms, causing him to take a few steps back.
"That's when he said he tried to exit the parking lot," Leintz said of Menges. "As he was looking to see if there was headlights coming from the west, he was exiting the parking lot and he said he felt a bump."
At the time, Menges allegedly thought it was a pot hole or, at worst, Freer's dog, Leintz said.
Menges allegedly accelerated as he drove away, heading home to his residence on Third Avenue West via Eighth Avenue West and Ninth Street, Leintz said. He looked out the rear-view mirror as he exited the Queen City Motel parking lot.
It allegedly took Menges a few days to realize that he did indeed hit Freer, causing his death, Leintz said.
"He said he was kind of worried about the whole driving under suspension and being intoxicated -- he just wasn't sure exactly how to come forward with this information," Leintz said.
According to criminal case records, Menges was convicted in March 2012 of exhibition driving, failure to wear a seat belt and DUI. In August he was convicted of carrying a concealed firearm or weapon and a charge of preventing arrest or discharge of other duties was dropped. At the time of the incident, Menges' driver's license was suspended.
The police were called around 1 a.m. Nov. 21 and Freer was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center and then to Bismarck, where he was pronounced dead.
Witnesses reported seeing a gray pickup, Police Sgt. Kylan Klauzer previously told The Press. Menges drives a gray Dodge Dakota.