Before dawn on a May day in 2022, a man driving down the interstate in a GMC Yukon crested a hill and spotted a Toyota sitting, immobile, in his lane. He tried to swerve around the vehicle but side-swiped it, overcorrected and rolled.
The rolling vehicle ejected the driver, another young man and two female teens from the Yukon. The two males a teenage girl died, while another teenage girl was injured.
A semitruck driver stopped to help.
Steven Gale Spearman, 26, who is accused of causing the wreck by crashing a Toyota Rav4 so that it was immobilized on the road, allegedly paced along the fence line, talking on the phone with his girlfriend.
Now 18 months later, prosecutors are pursuing vehicular homicide charges against Spearman, saying he left a friend’s house drunk that morning, wrecked the borrowed Toyota RAV4 and escaped from it before the Yukon’s deadly impact.
Spearman faces up to 67 years in prison if convicted on three counts of aggravated vehicle homicide, and one count of DUI with a serious bodily injury. The Natrona County District Attorney’s Office charged him Nov. 3.
His case ascended to the felony-level Natrona County District Court on Dec. 6.
Confused and flung into the roadside weeds with the ligaments of her knee shredded, the Yukon’s only survivor, Tahayla Kohtala, called 911 at about 4:22 a.m. on May 7, 2022, according to an evidentiary affidavit filed in Natrona County District Court.
Kohtala at first thought the Yukon had struck a wrong-way driver on Interstate 25 near mile marker 194 outside of Casper.
Natrona County Sheriff’s deputies arrived on scene and verified that the Yukon had indeed ejected all four of its occupants.
The driver, 22-year-old Dalton Foos, and his front-seat passenger Justin Robles, 19, were best friends, according to Robles’ obituary.
Abigail Helms, who was 17, was sitting in the back with Kohtala just before the crash, where the two girls were just getting to know each other.
Foos, Robles and Helms all were pronounced dead on scene, despite lifesaving efforts.
‘Kid Up There Walking Around’
A semitruck driver who was on scene when deputies arrived told Deputy Adam Diehl that he was traveling northbound on I-25 when he spotted the crashed Toyota. The driver dodged the Toyota despite towing a tandem trailer unit, the case affidavit says.
But behind him, the Yukon crashed.
The driver stopped to help Kohtala until medical personnel arrived.
Deputy Ryan Schulz asked the truck driver if he knew where the Toyota’s driver was.
“I don’t have a clue, unless that was the kid that was up there walking around,” the driver said, pointing to the highway fence behind the Yukon, the affidavit relates.
Drank A Little …
The affidavit says Diehl found Spearman near a fence talking to his girlfriend on the phone.
Spearman allegedly refused to get off the phone. But ultimately he complied and ended the phone call.
Spearman said he had been driving the Toyota, but had borrowed it from a 21-year-old woman who owned it.
“I’m freaking out,” Spearman said, adding he was suffering from severe anxiety.
Diehl asked Spearman if he’d been drinking.
“I drank a little bit earlier tonight, but …” Spearman trailed off, not finishing his sentence, says the affidavit.
Spearman said he wasn’t a wrong-way driver – he’d been headed north toward Midwest, Wyoming. He claimed the Toyota “blew a tie rod or something” in its front end and broke down in the middle of the road, triggering the crash, the affidavit relates.
He was already out of the Toyota before the crash, Spearman said.
Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Tyler Randig also spoke with Spearman, who reportedly said he had been drinking at a bar that evening, then hanging out at a friend’s house before heading back to Midwest at 3 a.m.
Spearman said he activated emergency flashers in the Toyota before he got out of it, says the affidavit.
The document says Randig detected a slur in Spearman’s speech.
An ambulance took Spearman to Banner Health, where he reportedly gave a blood sample with 0.173% blood-alcohol content.
The Crash Investigation
A crash investigation determined Spearman was indeed driving north in the Toyota, lost control, crashed into the center median cable barrier on the driver’s side, spun around and came to rest on the slow lane, facing south in the northbound lanes.
No lights were active on the front of the Toyota, though law enforcement noted that the emergency hazard lights toggle switch “appeared to be in the active position,” says the affidavit.
The document says police also collected a Hipoint 9 mm handgun from the driver’s side front floorboard.
Accepted Into College, Promoted At Work
In an interview the following spring, Kohtala told Natrona County Sheriff’s Cpl. Ken Jividen and investigations Officer Taylor Courtney that she and her friends had a bonfire the night of May 6, 2022, because Robles had been accepted into a college, and Foos was celebrating a promotion at work.
Police dispersed the party at about 11:40 p.m., so the youths went to the Kelly Walsh High School parking lot to hang out instead.
Kohtala said she did not drink alcohol and hadn’t seen Foos consume any, the affidavit says.
As the party died down, Foos, Robles and Helms all left together in Foos’ Yukon.
Kohtala contacted Robles to ask where they were.
“Just passing Ghost Town,” Robles responded, the affidavit relates.
Kohtala asked if she could get a ride home, and Robles said she could.
She showed these texts to Jividen during her interview, the affidavit says.
Foos steered the Yukon north on I-25 so that he could take Kohtala home. He and Robles chatted.
Kohtala tried to get to know Helms, whom she’d just met, the affidavit relates.
“Oh shit!” Foos yelled, just before the fatal swerve. Kohtala recalled he tried to correct his Yukon three times. She told Jividen that Foos was not on his phone or distracted, and had been traveling about 80 mph.
The Yukon rolled five times, Kohtala recalled.
“Go limp,” she told herself, as she watched the vehicle spew the others.
She lost consciousness but woke to find herself sitting up.
Spearman walked up to Kohtala and asked if she was OK, while he also appeared to be talking to someone on speakerphone, she told investigators.
She asked Spearman to check on the others.
He said “OK,” but she didn’t see him again, Kohtala said.
Something was lodged in the back of her right hand. A piece of glass was imbedded in her head, Kohtala said.
Medical personnel later found that she tore two main ligaments and the meniscus in her right knee, the affidavit relates, adding that she had to see a speech therapist to re-learn how to form sentences correctly, and underwent knee surgery.
I’m Sorry, I’m Sorry
In his own interview, Steven Ladwig, the truck driver, said he saw the man walking around the wreck on the phone. The young man claimed to be speaking with paramedics, and kept apologizing to Ladwig, the affidavit relates.
The man said something was wrong with the Toyota’s front end.
This New DUI
On June 19, 2023, Jividen and a lieutenant interviewed Spearman, where he was in the Natrona County Detention Center on a fresh drunk driving charge from the day before.
Spearman said the Toyota had lurched to the left “really hard,” resounded with a bang, and its front end dropped to the ground the night of May 7, 2022.
After the Toyota crashed, he tried to restart it, but it wouldn’t go. Then he tried to push it just before the Yukon hit, Spearman told investigators.
He got on the phone with his girlfriend immediately and told her what happened, and stayed on the phone with her until deputies arrived, the affidavit says.
Jividen asked Spearman why he didn’t call 911 instead of his girlfriend.
Spearman said Kohtala was already calling dispatch.
He went to check on the others, Spearman told Jividen. He’d found a male “breathing pretty heavily” before he encountered Kohtala.
Dying On Scene
The woman who owned the Toyota told investigators her car had been “perfectly maintained,” according to the affidavit. She also said the gun in the car was Spearman’s, not hers.
Spearman’s girlfriend, who is not the woman who owns the Toyota, told investigators that she was on the phone with Spearman that night.
“He was slurring his words hard core,” she said, the affidavit relates. They’d been in a relationship for five years by then, and “drinking was the norm” for him.
Spearman told his girlfriend after the Toyota quit working that he’d fallen asleep, and that a tie rod broke. He asked her to come pick him up.
Then the girlfriend heard a “loud bang.”
Spearman got back on the phone, hyperventilating. He said he could “see the kids” and could hear them “gurgling on their blood,” says the affidavit.
She started telling him how to put the people in the recovery position.
“I can’t do that,” Spearman allegedly told her, adding, “I’m running, I’m running, I’m running.”
When he saw the emergency lights, he went back to the scene at his girlfriend’s urging, the affidavit says.
The affidavit writer pointed to Ladwig’s account of watching Spearman walk away from the crash then back to it.
A Dark Coincidence
Investigators learned that Spearman had been drinking earlier that night with Kohtala’s brother, Travis Coberly. Coberly and Spearman had been accused together in 2015 of robbing a man of his marijuana.
Spearman was convicted of conspiring to commit murder, a felony.
Coberly confronted Spearman about harming Kohtala the morning after the crash.
Spearman claimed his own wreck ripped the battery out of the Toyota so its lights wouldn’t work, Coberly later told investigators.
Spearman had told his girlfriend that he recognized one of the kids as “Travis’ sister,” says the affidavit.
Spearman’s girlfriend broke up with him after the crash.
“What does this mean for us?” Spearman had reportedly asked her when she visited him in the hospital.
She said their relationship was over, says the document.
The day after the crash, Spearman allegedly told her he felt bad for not helping “the kids,” and asked if he could sleep in her bed with her, and she said no.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.