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Man to serve year in prison for Cass County crash that killed friend

FARGO - A judge sentenced a Page man to a year in prison Monday for his role in a fatal crash that killed his close friend who was a passenger in the SUV he was driving.

Keagan Haas, 26, pleaded guilty in Cass County District Court to an amended charge of negligent homicide, a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Haas was originally charged with manslaughter, a Class B felony carrying up to 10 years in prison. That charge was reduced, and misdemeanor charges of aggravated reckless driving, driving under suspension and driving without liability insurance were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Outside the courtroom, Haas' grandmother embraced the stepmother of Joshua Melvin, the 30-year-old Page man who died in the accident. The friendship between the two families has continued through the tragedy, they said.

"I think it's fair, and I think it's going to go fast," Melvin's stepmother, Patricia Selby, said of the one-year sentence imposed by Judge Douglas Herman. Melvin's father, Roger Melvin, died last week.

Haas' public defender, Pat O'Day, said there were questions about evidence in the case, and both families were deeply affected.

"It's been horrible for everybody," he said.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol said Haas was driving a Chevy Suburban on State Highway 18, two miles north of Amenia, just before 1 a.m. on Nov. 5, 2011, when the vehicle went off a curve, entered a ditch, vaulted over an approach and rolled.

Haas, Melvin and another passenger, 43-year-old Jody Arttus, of West Fargo, were all ejected from the vehicle.

Melvin was pronounced dead at the scene, and Haas and Arttus suffered significant injuries.

Assistant State's Attorney Tristan Van de Streek said a "launch test" conducted as part of the accident reconstruction estimated the Suburban was traveling 60 to 80 mph.

According to the patrol's report, Haas' blood-alcohol concentration was tested at 0.075 percent within an hour to an hour and a half of the crash and at 0.03 percent about 3½ hours after the crash. Haas also received units of blood at the hospital, which may have diluted his blood, lowering his BAC level, the report stated.

"So we think he was over 0.08 at the time of the incident," Van de Streek said, referring to the legal limit for driving, "but we don't have a test to that effect."

A blood sample tested at the state crime lab also indicated that Haas had prescription drugs in his system, but Van de Streek said those drugs were administered to Haas at the accident scene.

Van de Streek sought an 18-month prison sentence, while O'Day recommended 30 to 60 days in jail.

Herman called it "a difficult case" before sentencing Haas to a year in prison with no probation, fines or fees.

"He just needs to suffer the consequences," he said.