Wrong-way driver is charged with endangerment, DUI

By 
Maureen Dawes
Thursday, March 25, 2021
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A Hardin woman last week denied driving the wrong way on Interstate 90 in Big Horn County District Court.

Winona Joy LaForge, also known as Winona Plenty Hoops, 35, pleaded not guilty March 16 to felony criminal endangerment for her role in the incident on Jan. 29. She also pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol (third offense), driving while suspended (second offense) obstructing a peace officer, all misdemeanors, stemming from the same incident. She appeared via video conference from the Big Horn County Detention Center.

According to charging documents, in late January a Montana Highway Patrol Trooper was responding to a pursuit in progress in Interstate 90 in Big Horn County. A Nissan Altima was driving westbound on eastbound I-90 toward the trooper. The trooper reportedly had to swerve on the road to avoid hitting the oncoming vehicle. After the vehicle reportedly nearly collided with the trooper it briefly stopped then continued driving in the same direction and the trooper attempted to catch up to the vehicle. When the trooper began his pursuit he reportedly saw a commercial vehicle almost hit the Nissan.

Court documents state the vehicle had come to a stop on the shoulder of the passing lane and the trooper pulled his vehicle in front of the Nissan Altima to prevent it from moving. While the trooper was positioning his vehicle in front of the car he had noticed movement in the vehicle from the front of the vehicle to the backseat. The trooper saw an unconscious man in the front passenger seat who was still wearing his seat belt and another man in the backseat who was sitting still who was also wearing his seat belt.

The trooper then found a woman in rear passenger side of the vehicle, who was later identified at LaForge, who seemed to be attempting find her seat belt and put it on.

Charging documents state that the trooper went to the back passenger door and put LaForge in custody. The man in the backseat told the trooper LaForge was the driver of the car and she had jumped in the backseat of the car when the Nissan came to a stop.

The trooper had the backseat passenger sit in the driver’s seat to see if he was the driver and his knees had almost touched the dashboard.

The trooper had noted, according to charging documents, Laforge’s eyes were glassy, her speech was slurred and she smelled of alcohol. She had admitted to consuming alcohol but denied she was impaired to drive.

LaForge was then transferred to the Yellowstone County Detention Center where she performed poorly on three sobriety tests.

According to court documents, after LaForge was read her rights she told the trooper she had been the driver of the Nissan Altima and she consumed alcohol before driving the vehicle. She also told the trooper she knew she drove on the wrong side of I-90 and that she jumped into the backseat of the car once it came to a stop.

LaForge was turned over to Yellowstone County Detention Center for several outstanding warrants that she had in Yellowstone County. A review of LaForge’s criminal history showed previous driving under the influence convictions and showed she was is on probation for criminal endangerment.

LaForge faces 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for felony criminal endangerment; 30 days to a year in the county jail and a fine up to $5,000 for misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol (third offense); two to six months in the county jail and a $500 fine for misdemeanor driving while suspended (second offense); and up to six months in the county jail and a fine of $500 for misdemeanor obstructing a peace officer.

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