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Man accused of erratic driving enters Alford plea

by Jeff Smith/For the Leader
| February 8, 2024 12:00 AM

A Bigfork man, accused of endangering the lives of others with his driving habits, admits that a jury would likely convict him of doing so. Joshua Wayne Winfree, 34, entered an Alford plea in Polson District Court Jan. 30, to felony criminal endangerment.

The plea was entered as part of an agreement that will dismiss one count of impersonation of a public servant and recommends a two-year suspended commitment to the Montana Department of Corrections. An Alford plea results in a conviction, without the defendant admitting guilt to the charge. The charges were based on two separate incidents, almost a year apart.

Judge Molly Owen, who is presiding over the case, is not bound to the agreement.

The criminal endangerment charge stems from an incident Sept. 10, 2020. According to court records, Winfree drew the attention of other motorists when he allegedly traveled at speeds of up to 95 mph while tailgating others within “inches” along Highway 35 and onto U.S. Highway 93.

The suspect’s vehicle was described by the initial reporting party as a white Chevy Silverado pick-up, bearing the words “FIRE” on the back of it. The first reporting party was a known member of “a local fire crew,” identified by the initials “B.M.,” and had no knowledge of a need that would warrant this driving behavior, according to the charging documents.

The charge of impersonation of a public servant, which will be dismissed if the plea agreement is accepted, stems from another highway incident. According to court records, on Aug. 22, 2021, a woman, identified by the initials C.S., was pulled over on U.S. Highway 93 by a man matching Winfree’s description, and driving a white Chevy Silverado with “FIRE” on the back.

She indicated that the Silverado came upon her aggressively after she had passed it while traveling southbound between Polson and Ravalli. Allegedly, after he activated his emergency flashers on the front grill of the Silverado, Winfree made a hand gesture for her to pull over. After complying, C.S. said Winfree questioned her about her driving and made her apologize while he was wearing a holstered firearm.

C.S. says she complied because he had a gun and wanted an apology. Winfree accepted the apology and told her to be more careful. He then went back to his Silverado and continued southbound.

Judge Owen set the case for sentencing for March 20. Winfree remains at liberty.