With only preliminary results in hand, Deputy County Attorney Tim Wright said that at this time, no charges will be filed against Mike Waterman, the driver of a pickup that collided with an all-terrain vehicle the night of July 23.
Officers initially suspected that alcohol played a role in the crash, but were informed Tuesday that results from Waterman's blood test indicate he was not legally impaired that evening.
"At this point, we're not filing charges against him," Wright said, "based on the various environmental factors as well as the preliminary results on the blood-alcohol level."
Instead, detectives believe it may have been road conditions on the dirt road that led to the accident.
Waterman was heading home July 23 just before 8 p.m., traveling on Briarwood to reach his residence on Alpine Drive. When he topped a rise on Briarwood, detectives say road conditions forced him to the center of the road. At the crest of the hill, Waterman ran into an ATV, driven by 20-year-old Mike Osteen.
When Police Sgt. Todd Bramlet arrived at the scene, he noticed several people standing by while Osteen was seated on his four-wheel ATV. Waterman was among those circling the injured man, who Bramlet said in his report appeared to have suffered a compound fracture to his left knee.
As the sky darkened, and rain began to dampen the accident scene, paramedics arrived to take care of Osteen. He was transported to Payson Regional Medical Center, and was later taken to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn, where he was treated for two broken legs and a broken hip.
Bramlet turned his attention to the driver of the pickup. Bramlet said in his police report that Waterman told him he was driving north on Briarwood when the ATV crested the hill. He told officers there was no time to avoid the collision. When officers noticed the smell of alcohol on Waterman, he informed them he had two Long Island Ice Teas at a bar before heading home.
While the driver was initially placed under arrest for driving while intoxicated, Deputy County Attorney Patti Wortman later withdrew that arrest.
"They placed him under arrest for DUI so they could get a blood sample," Wortman said. "But, because we had serious injuries, we didn't want to combine the misdemeanor with a potential felony. So, I told them we don't want him arrested. We either want to get the blood by consent, or get a telephonic search warrant."
Judge Ronnie McDaniel of the Payson Justice Court issued a search warrant that evening, and Waterman was taken to Payson Regional Medical Center to have blood drawn. Officers then drove him home.
"It's a legal technicality," Wortman said. If a suspect is charged with a misdemeanor, and pleads to that misdemeanor, and enough information was later found to warrant a felony charge, the rules of double jeopardy would preclude the prosecutor from filing the felony charge.
Detectives investigating the case believe there were a number of factors that led to the crash.
"In my opinion, there is a hierarchy of causes," said Payson Police Det. Chris Haack. "The principle cause is the fact that these vehicles are on this blind hill, and the condition of the roadway at the time was such that vehicles are forced to the center of the roadway. If the timing is just wrong, as these vehicles are heading toward each other, there's going to be a collision at the top of that hill. Neither one can see each other, and both are compelled to go to the center of the road."
Months ago, Haack said, residents living along Briarwood asked the Town Council to maintain their road, even though it's not a dedicated public roadway.
The council voted to maintain that road, said Town Manager Rich Underkofler, and has been grading it, along with 18 miles of other non-dedicated roads around Payson.
"We have the same kind of road conditions on Briarwood as we do on Sutton and Cedar," Underkofler said. "Those roads were built according to standards at the time, and would cost big bucks to reconstruct them to today's standards.
"When you have scarce resources, you allocate them based on where the greatest incidents of accidents can occur," he said. "That's based on traffic count and exposure to accidents. Briarwood doesn't fit that definition."
Two months after the accident, Osteen said he's getting around better than he had initially hoped.
"I can walk now on crutches," he said. "Actually, I'm doing pretty good."
Osteen said he holds no animosity towards Waterman, who lives right around the corner from him.
"I don't see anything wrong with the guy," he said. "It was an accident."