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Fatal crash adds to North Dakota man's record of traffic-related convictions

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A man charged with reckless driving in an April crash that killed two people in Cass County has a number of traffic-related convictions, including a reckless driving conviction and a conviction for actual physical control.

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"Most of that (past record) is noncriminal. Stop signs are not crimes. Speedings are not crimes," said Bruce Quick, a Fargo attorney defending Neil David Walton, 32, of Englevale, N.D.

Walton faces a reckless driving charge in Cass County District Court after an April 18 crash that killed Deb and Rob Baumbach.

"It was a horrible accident. He (Walton) feels awful about it," Quick said Monday.

"There was no alcohol in this allegation at all. In fact, he (Walton) doesn't drink at all," said Quick.

According to the North Dakota Supreme Court website, Walton has been convicted on several driving-related charges:

* Walton pleaded guilty in March 2007 to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving for an incident that occurred in April 2006 in Ransom County.

* In December 2007, Walton pleaded guilty to disregarding a stop sign, a citation that was issued in Ransom County the previous month.

* In November 2008, Walton was cited in Ransom County for going 103 mph in a 55 mph zone. He pleaded guilty to the speeding citation a month later.

* In early 2009, Walton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of actual physical control stemming from the November 2008 incident that led to the speeding ticket.

A charge of actual physical control alleges someone was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and had control of a vehicle even if it is not moving.

As part of his sentence for the actual physical control conviction, Walton was ordered to complete a defensive driving course, a condition he met in April 2009.

According to online records for the North Dakota Supreme Court website, Walton also has had charges of driving with a suspended license, contributing to the delinquency of a minor dismissed.

The Forum asked the North Dakota Department of Transportation for a copy of Walton's driving record, but the agency denied the request.

A spokeswoman for the agency said Monday the information is protected under North Dakota Century code.

Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Tristan Van de Streek said he could not comment on any past convictions Walton might have, but a defendant's history can be used by a judge if the person is convicted.

"When it comes to sentencing, it is appropriate for the judge to consider past conduct," Van de Streek said.

The most recent case against Walton, filed in Cass County District Court, stems from a crash at Highway 18 and Highway 81 in rural Cass County.

Court records say Walton told investigators he was talking with a passenger in his truck as they headed west on Highway 18 and he failed to stop at the intersection.

The Baumbachs were heading north on a motorcycle when it struck the back of Walton's truck. They were thrown from the motorcycle and pronounced dead at the scene, court records show.

The pending reckless driving charge against Walton carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Van de Streek said that when filing charges, prosecutors try to choose an offense level that is appropriate for the conduct.

"We also have in mind the likelihood of getting a conviction," said Van de Streek, prosecutors felt reckless driving was the appropriate charge.

"Oftentimes, you'll see manslaughter charged where the accused is driving around intoxicated, driving at a high rate of speed, things of that nature," Van de Streek said.

"In this instance," he added, "there is no allegation that Mr. Walton was impaired. Rather, we're alleging that his conduct was reckless," Van de Streek said.

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