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Self-described ‘hell-raiser’ of a driver pleads not guilty to manslaughter

WILLISTON N.D. -- Despite his attorney's request to dismiss charges against him, a Montana man was arraigned for manslaughter and pleaded not guilty to the Class B felony in Williston on Thursday.

WILLISTON N.D. - Despite his attorney’s request to dismiss charges against him, a Montana man was arraigned for manslaughter and pleaded not guilty to the Class B felony in Williston on Thursday.

Bryan Wipf, 21, also entered a not guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license, which authorities say he was doing on Dec. 22 when he made a left turn on Main Street in his pickup truck and hit 64-year-old Lyle Forsberg in the crosswalk. Forsberg died hours later on his way to the hospital in Minot.

After Forsberg’s death, an initial charge of reckless driving was upgraded to manslaughter, based on Wipf’s alleged acceleration into the turn, and his admission to officers that he’d been drinking before the crash.

During the preliminary hearing, Detective Jacob Gregory of the Williston Police Department testified that Wipf told investigators he wanted to make a left turn to head north onto Main Street from Second Street, and noticed that an oncoming car, which had the right of way, was waiting to make a right turn. Wipf said he did not see Forsberg, who was crossing the street while the other car waited.

“He kept his eyes on the vehicle directly across from him,” Gregory said. “He said he wanted to clear the intersection as quickly as possible.”

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Witnesses claimed they heard the sound of an engine revving just before the crash.

“They noticed that (Wipf’s) vehicle accelerated very quickly to clear the intersection, in a way that they compared to beating the light,” Gregory said of two women’s accounts.

He also testified that an officer at the scene noticed a smell of alcohol on Wipf, whose blood alcohol level was under the legal limit.

Defense attorney Benjamen Johnson said the charge of manslaughter and its implications of reckless behavior are unwarranted, and pointed out that Wipf was not subjected to further tests for alcohol use or charged with drinking and driving.

“Every day people clear an intersection on a left turn and quickly accelerate; that’s not behavior that’s out of the norm in Williston or in any other city with traffic lights,” Johnson said.

Williams County assistant state’s attorney Nathan Madden disagreed, saying that the series of events leading up to Forsberg’s death constituted reckless decisions, and that Wipf, who described his driving style as that of a “hell-raiser” in interviews with police, should not have been behind the wheel without a valid license.

“He wasn’t even supposed to be out on the roads at the time that he engaged in this conduct. That, at least to me, indicates that he drives in an aggressive and reckless manner… I don’t know what else the term ‘hell-raiser’ conjures up,” Madden said. “All in all this is a bad situation that happened because a person who shouldn’t have been driving decided to engage in reckless conduct, and (ended up hitting) a pedestrian who was trying to cross the street with the light.”

If convicted, Wipf could face up to 10 years in prison. A trial date has not yet been set.

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