By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune
One month after a 47-year-old man was found dead on a rural road outside of Frannie, authorities are continuing to investigate what happened.
The Park County Sheriff’s Office has said it appears Donny Pearson “exited” a moving vehicle that was being driven by another man. However, authorities may never know what led to Pearson’s fatal fall on April 26.
Court records show the sheriff’s office has been probing whether the driver of the vehicle, 33-year-old Joshua Klebenstein, might have caused Pearson’s death by driving impaired. However, Sheriff Scott Steward said Tuesday that “we just don’t have any evidence right now to suggest foul play.”
Pearson had been living in the Frannie area — where he was apparently known as “Texas Donny” — but the sheriff said Pearson was from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In the wake of his death, it took Park County Coroner Tim Power days to confirm Pearson’s identity.
“[He] just never left any trail of any family ever,” Power said, adding, “you hate to see that.”
It was around 2 p.m. on April 26 that a citizen found Pearson’s body on Lane 5N, about a half-mile from the route’s intersection with Road 2N, between Frannie and Deaver. Judging by marks in the dirt, the man’s body had slid and rolled for approximately 110 feet, “indicating that the deceased male had exited a vehicle while it was moving,” Park County Sheriff’s Investigator Jed Ehlers wrote in an affidavit. An autopsy later concluded that Pearson suffered a fatal skull fracture when he hit the ground, Power said Tuesday. He said standard toxicology results remain pending.
The citizen who came upon Pearson’s body reportedly told investigator Ehlers that, roughly 10 minutes earlier, he’d seen Pearson and Klebenstein on the side of Road 2N. The witness said he saw Klebenstein’s 1997 Toyota Tacoma stuck along the road and heard Klebenstein tell Pearson to get in the truck, the affidavit says.
As deputies and other emergency responders from Park and Big Horn counties were working the scene, authorities got a new report — that a truck had just crashed into a nearby fence, sped away, then crashed into a ditch.
On the other side of the county line, at the intersection of Lane 5 and Road 2, Big Horn County sheriff’s deputies found Klebenstein and his stuck Toyota Tacoma.
“Joshua Klebenstein had blood on his hands when he was contacted, but no apparent injuries to his person,” Ehlers wrote in a later application for a search warrant. He said that Klebenstein “was uncooperative and did not answer questions.”
Klebenstein was ultimately arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. He has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge.
At the scene on April 26, Klebenstein allegedly told Big Horn County Sheriff’s personnel that he’d drank alcohol 30 minutes before the crash. Additionally, “Klebenstein told us that he had used illegal drugs, but would not tell us what he was on,” Big Horn County Sheriff’s Deputy Darold Newman wrote in an affidavit.
The deputy said Klebenstein showed multiple signs of impairment: His speech was slurred, his breath smelled like alcohol, his eyes were watery and bloodshot and he was crying, while displaying a range of emotions, Newman wrote.
“He had a hard time maintaining his balance, used a lot of profanity, [and] wanted to fight,” Newman wrote.
The deputy said Klebenstein eventually had to be taken to the ground and handcuffed, after he refused to follow orders. That violence and safety concerns ruled out field sobriety tests, Newman said, leading deputies to seek a blood sample for chemical testing. Klebenstein “told me that he would never give us his blood,” Newman wrote, but the deputy obtained a warrant for a sample.
Ehlers, meanwhile, obtained warrants to search the Tacoma about a week after the incident, collecting swabs of material, a bottle of Nikolai vodka and a couple of pipes.
Klebenstein is currently free on a $10,000 bond as he awaits a trial on the DUI allegations in Big Horn County Circuit Court.