Couple files lawsuit against man accused of vehicular assault

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Whitefish first responders attended to the scene of a crash on Baker Avenue in Whitefish on Saturday evening. The driver of the vehicle was charged with DUI and vehicular assault after allegedly hitting two pedestrians. (Nelson Roosendahl photo)

A Georgia couple who were severely injured after being struck by a vehicle in Whitefish in July have filed suit against the man who is accused of negligent vehicle assault in the incident.

Beth and Michael Marks, of Marietta, Georgia, filed a suit Thursday against James Bowling French Jr., 56, seeking compensation for the injuries they suffered in the July 14 crash on Baker Avenue.

The Marks are also seeking punitive damages and any other relief ordered by the court.

Their suit claims French was in a drunken condition when he drove off the road, onto a sidewalk and hit the couple, causing serious injuries.

They also claimed that because of French’s actions, they incurred medical bills, lost wages, loss of an established course of life, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and other damages.

In addition, the couple maintained that French acted with malice and reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of others.

In the criminal case, French pleaded not guilty to two felony counts in Flathead County District Court in August. He faces 10 years in state prison for each criminal count.

Court documents indicate French was legally drunk, according to a breath test taken by police.

French was released from the county jail after posting bond July 19.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, Whitefish Police officers were called to Baker Avenue the evening of July 14 for a report of an accident involving a 2012 Mustang GT. The car was found at a 45-degree angle up against a guardrail.

Police found one of the victims, Michael Marks, impaled on a tree branch. His wife, Beth, was found on the ground, about 20 feet below the street in a ditch. Both suffered severe injuries.

When officers spoke with French, he allegedly admitted he was driving and said he had consumed alcohol earlier in the day. According to the police report, French’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy, and he smelled of alcohol.

After being transported to the police department, French again allegedly admitted he had consumed alcohol before driving into Whitefish for dinner. He said he lost control of his vehicle and saw the two pedestrians shortly before hitting them, the court documents state.

French then completed several standard field sobriety tests, which showed indications of impairment, according to court documents. He was then taken to North Valley Hospital where a blood sample was taken. French also gave a breath sample which allegedly resulted in a blood alcohol level of 0.098. The legal limit in Montana is 0.08.

According to the affidavit, officers spoke with several witnesses who said they saw French’s vehicle speed toward and hit both pedestrians, sending both airborne.

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