Casper Man Charged With Four Driving Felonies
A Casper man could face up to 40 years imprisonment for driving under the influence causing a one-vehicle rollover and injuring five passengers more than a year ago.
Brandon Steele, 20, heard the four identical felony counts of "driving under the influence with serious bodily injury" during his initial appearance before Natrona County Circuit Court Judge Brian Christensen on Monday.
If convicted, each count is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, plus a fine between $2,000 and $5,000, Christensen said.
Steele also was charged with one misdemeanor count of reckless endangering, punishable by up to one year imprisonment.
Natrona County Assistant District Attorney Sam Forshner said the charges are serious, with some of the victims still suffering from their injuries.
Christensen set Steele's bond at $35,000 cash or surety and ordered him to have no contact with any of the victims.
The case started early May 1, 2022, when Steele called dispatch to report that he left a bonfire, rolled his Jeep about one mile from Wyoming Highway 487 and one passenger may have a broken arm, according to an affidavit accompanying the charging documents.
Natrona County Sheriff's deputies contacted him about 1.5 miles south of Coal Mountain Road on Circle Drive South, saw the 1991 Jeep upside down in a ditch, five passengers with unknown but obvious injuries, and a case of beer with half the cans either consumed or broken in the wreck.
When driving away from the bonfire with five unknown passengers, Steele said he thought he saw headlights from a law enforcement vehicle, "punched it," and lost control.
The five passengers were taken to the Banner Health-Wyoming Medical Center, including one taken by Life Flight for a possible leg fracture and head injuries.
Steele also was taken to the hospital, and a search warrant was obtained to draw his blood.
He was read his rights and agreed to talk to a deputy because he said he wished to tell the truth.
Steele said he arrived at the bonfire at 10:40 p.m. on April 30. He said, and the deputy believed, that he drank four to six 12-ounce cans of beer, plus the equivalent of four to six shots of whiskey.
Steele said he got into the Jeep and was later joined by five friends.
They left the scene, Steele saw what he thought were law enforcement vehicle headlights in his rear view mirror, and a passenger urged him to drive faster.
He said he drove about 65 mph through one curve, overcorrected at a second curve and slowed to 50 mph when he entered the third curve and crashed, according to the affidavit. "Steele said that he felt like the crash was his fault, because he had lost control of the Jeep as it traveled around the sharp corners."
Still on May 1, Sheriff's investigators interviewed a man and three females who rode with him in his pickup to the bonfire and later found Steele and his passengers at the crash site.
Investigators also interviewed the passengers riding with Steele, but at least one did not remember the details of the crash.
Subsequent investigations determined the Jeep mechanically functioned normally before the crash, and that Steele's blood alcohol content would have been about 0.133% at the time of the crash. (The legal limit is 0.08%)
On Jan. 12, a Sheriff's investigator spoke with one of Steele's passengers who said as law enforcement was breaking up the bonfire Steele told everyone to get in the Jeep and leave, "'like right now.'"
Steele drove towards Highway 487 and everyone was telling him to slow down, but he refused. (This was the same passenger Steele said urged him to drive faster.) About one minute before the crash, Steele picked up his cell phone to look at a social media application, this passenger said.
On March 21, the investigator again spoke with this passenger who said he saw Steele at a birthday party on Jan. 29.
This passenger said Steele pulled him aside and said, "'If you don't stop telling the Sheriff's Department about the crash, I am going to get my gun and I am going to come and have a chat with your mom.'" The passenger left the party and had not talked to Steele since.
On March 21, the investigator talked to a female passenger who said Steele drank five or six beers on the way to the bonfire, and drank more until law enforcement came to break up the fire.
That passenger said Steele was "'three sheets to the wind,'" that he was loud, stumbling and "generally a happy drunk."
She echoed the other passenger's comment that all the passengers told Steele, in vain, to slow down.
This passenger "sustained a compressed fracture to her T-7 and T-8 vertebrae, a fractured left shoulder, a concussion and minor scrapes and bruises as a result of the crash," according to the affidavit.