State v. Buslayev, 2013 MT 88 (April 9, 2013) (5-0) (McKinnon, J.)
Issue: Whether the district court erred in admitting into evidence five photos of the victim’s body.
Short Answer: No.
Facts: Jerry Parrick, a volunteer firefighter, was killed while responding to a call one night on I-90 in Mineral County. As rescue workers extricated a family from an overturned vehicle, Parrick moved his truck to alert oncoming traffic of the hazard and provide an area for rescue personnel to work. Snow was falling, the interstate was snow-packed and slippery, and the temperature was five degrees. Parrick was in his pickup, which was equipped with emergency lighting and parked on the shoulder to warn oncoming traffic of the accident. Sergey Buslayev approached, driving a commercial tractor trailer, and began merging into the left lane. He downshifted and used the brake, causing the tractor trailer to jackknife and hit Parrick’s pickup. The force of the collision pushed the cargo area of the pickup into the cab, killing Parrick. Buslayev was charged with negligent homicide and criminal endangerment. Before trial, the parties stipulated that Parrick died as a result of injuries when his vehicle was struck by a tractor trailer driven by Buslayev. Buslayev moved in limine to exclude five photos of the victim’s body, which showed Parrick in his firefighter’s gear, and his position in the cab of his pickup after impact. His face was covered with a cloth. Buslayev argued the photos were highly prejudicial, and in light of the stipulation, not probative. The state argued the photos demonstrated that Parrick’s position in the cab was due to Buslayev’s excessive speed. Both parties produced expert witnesses in crash reconstruction. Whether Buslayev was traveling too fast for the conditions was a primary consideration for the jury.
Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court noted that the photos helped explain the accident and were not unduly sensational. It granted Buslayev’s motion as to one photo, which showed Parrick’s face, but allowed the remaining four photos. The jury found Buslayev guilty of negligent homicide and criminal endangerment. Buslayev appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.