Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Harlan Vaska found guilty of 11th DUI

| November 24, 2022 12:00 AM

Harlan Gerald Vaska sat before a jury and District Court Judge Robert Whelan Monday after pleading not guilty to an 11th DUI charge dating back to 2021. After a 20-minute deliberation the jury returned a verdict of guilty.

The charge dates back to May 2021 when Lake County deputy Brooke Livingston found Vaska parked by the side of the Light Road, south of Polson. She had observed that the driver of the vehicle was driving slowly and seemed to have trouble staying on the road.

When she approached the car, Vaska told her he was just trying to get home.

During the course of the trial, which included testimony from officer Livingston, the jury saw video footage that showed Vaska slurring words, staggering slightly and unable to complete the field sobriety test. He was required to submit to a blood test, which was analyzed by the Montana State Crime Lab and measured a blood alcohol content of .195.

In his closing arguments, Vaska’s attorney, public defender Buddy Dean, urged the jury to not base their judgment solely on “empirical data.”

Instead, Dean questioned why the officer stopped Vaska when “he wasn’t trying to run off. He was just parked on the side of the road.”

“He pulled over after making a turn on a rural road after midnight,” Dean told the jury. “He cooperates, tries the field sobriety test and gets frustrated. He doesn’t try to shirk his responsibility. He wasn’t totally impaired.”

“Mr. Dean wants to make this about why she stopped him,” countered Lake County Attorney James Lapotka. “She didn’t pull him over. He pulled himself over.”

In his closing statement, Lapotka urged the jury to “hold Mr. Vaska accountable for his choices. He chose to go out to a pool tourney in Pablo. He chose to drink at a bar and he chose to drive home. I’m asking you to hold him accountable today.”

Sentencing is set for Jan. 12, and he remains in custody at the Lake County Jail until then, with no bond set.

Lapotka also prosecuted Vaska in 2017 for violating the terms of his probation after being arrested for a bar fight in Pablo. At that time he was sentenced by Judge Kim Christopher to 10 years with the Department of Corrections.

In addition to his many DUI convictions, Vaska has two convictions for criminal possession of dangerous drugs.

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