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Moorhead man pleads not guilty in crash that killed best friend

Dan Horn1 / 2
Bryan Ness2 / 2

ADA, Minn. - A Moorhead man accused of drunken driving in a December 2008 crash that killed his best friend pleaded not guilty Wednesday to criminal vehicular homicide and DWI in Norman County District Court here.

Bryan Paul Ness, 32, made his first court appearance in the case since charges were refiled earlier this month.

County Attorney Su-san Rantala Nelson dismissed the case just days before Ness was to stand trial last summer, saying she had to evaluate how testimony from a surprise defense witness, an accident reconstruction expert, might affect the case.

The refiled charges include two counts of criminal vehicular homicide and one count of criminal vehicular operation, each carrying up to 10 years in prison. Ness also faces a felony DWI charge and gross misdemeanor charges of DWI and driving with a canceled license.

Assistant County Attorney Scott Swanson said Ness pleaded not guilty to all six charges Wednesday.

His next court date wasn't immediately set.

Ness remains in the Clay County Jail in Moorhead on unrelated charges of violating a no-contact order and obstructing the legal process stemming from a Nov. 23 incident. A plea hearing in that case is scheduled for Jan. 4.

According to court records and Forum archives, Ness and Dan Horn were on their way home from a concert by the rock band Disturbed in Grand Forks when Ness' 2004 Honda Pilot went off the road near Borup, landed in a field and rolled. Both men were ejected from the SUV, and Horn died from a skull fracture, the Ramsey County medical examiner found.

Court records say Ness initially told a sheriff's deputy that he was driving that night, but his attorney, Steven Light, has said there's no way to prove who was driving at the time of the accident.