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‘I thought I could beat him and it didn’t work’: Miller pleads guilty in criminal vehicular homicide case

WORTHINGTON -- James Lee Miller, 68, of Cylinder, Iowa, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to two felony charges: criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation -- substantial bodily harm in Nobles County District Court. The semi-vs.-...

WORTHINGTON - James Lee Miller, 68, of Cylinder, Iowa, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to two felony charges: criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation - substantial bodily harm in Nobles County District Court. The semi-vs.-semi collision resulted in the injury of Samuel Luze and the death of Charles Luze of Sioux Falls, S.D.

The charges stem from an accident that occurred in September 2014 at the intersection of Nobles County 35 and Minnesota 264. Miller was driving a loaded semi-tractor of seed corn on his way home to Iowa from Montana.
Under oath Tuesday, Miller explained the events that led up to the fatality. Miller exited Interstate 90 at Worthington due to the closure of the exit for U.S. 71 in Jackson.
Miller explained to Judge Gordon Moore he’d taken Minnesota 60 through Worthington to see the roundabouts he’d heard about. After navigating the three roundabouts, he turned onto Nobles County 35.
While traveling, Miller admitted to making a few phone calls using a headset while he was driving.

He explained the headset connects, dials and disconnects from phone calls using voice commands. He said he’d been attempting to make a phone call just before the accident, but was unable to reach the other party. He instead left a message and said he’d ended the call before the accident. Later, during his testimony, he said he couldn’t recall if he was on the phone at the time of the crash.
Miller said he did not see the sign to indicate a stop ahead, nor did he feel the rumble strips or see them as he approached the intersection. He added Tuesday that he’d traveled the road since the time of the accident and did not feel the rumble strips then, either, when his truck was loaded.
He also added that over his years of traveling the roadway, he didn’t recall it ever having stop signs on the west-to-east route. He said it only has two stops as-is. Miller indicated he thought that north-to-south traffic would have to yield to east-to-west traffic, as is the case with roadways closer to Jackson.
Miller said as he saw the Luzes approaching from the south, he finally saw the stop sign, albeit too late. Miller said he “saw it in the background of evergreen trees.” In a split-second decision, he decided to try to beat the Luzes through the intersection rather than attempt to slow down, swerve or brake. Miller said he thought it would be worse if he’d tried to stop.
“I thought I could beat him and it didn’t work,” Miller testified.
Miller told the prosecution when asked that he had attempted to speed up but it was “hard to get speed up on 77,000 pounds.” Charles Luze’s semi struck the rear of Miller’s trailer. Samuel broke his tooth and received injuries in the crash. Charles, his father, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Judge Moore explained to Miller that the normal presumptive sentence for criminal vehicular homicide for someone with no criminal history, like Miller, is typically 41 to 57 months in prison.
The agreement calls for a stay of imposition on the prison sentence and that Miller be on supervised probation for up to five years. It also requires Miller to pay a $1,000 fine plus fees. In addition, Miller would have to make five presentations regarding distracted driving and would not be allowed to drive without a valid license or insurance.
Additionally, Miller’s agreement calls for a jail term of 365 days to be divided over three years. If the agreement is accepted by the court, Miller would serve a 135-day stint in 2016. His agreement also provides for him to select the jail in which he would serve his time, likely in Palo Alto County, Iowa. He also is eligible for work release and to be let out for doctor’s appointments. Miller’s agreement also asks for him to be released to attend church services.
The remaining portion of his jail time would be divided into 115-day increments in 2017 and 2018 but could be abated if he is following the terms of his probation. Restitution was not discussed as a term of the plea agreement.
“There are no winners in a situation like this,” Moore said Tuesday.
Moore ordered a presentence investigation and sentencing guideline worksheet to be prepared before he will enter a sentence on the case. Miller will likely be sentenced in February 2016.

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