Driver changes pleas to two vehicular felonies

Joy Ufford file photo

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Appearing in 9th District Court, Natalie R. Pilon, of Pinedale and Montana, pleaded “no contest” on Thursday, April 13, to two of four felony charges resulting from a DATE deliberate collision with a semi hauling a fully loaded logging trailer.

Pilon was seriously injured, as was the logging truck’s driver, on Oct. 30, 2021; both were life-flighted from the scene several miles west of Pinedale that closed Highway 191 while cranes moved full-length logs like pick-up sticks. Another driver was slightly injured.

She was charged with Counts I and II: felony intentional or reckless aggravated assault and battery and Counts III and IV: felony property destruction. Pilon was also charged with misdemeanors of driving with a visible cell phone screen and not wearing a seatbelt.

Pilon was previously represented by Pinedale attorney John LaBuda, recently named Circuit Court judge and his law partner Rives White, who took over the long-running case.

Former Sublette County Judge Curt Haws set Pilon’s release at $250,000 signature bond with terms that let her live in Billings with her mother.

On Jan. 23 before also-new 9th District Court Judge Kate McKay, Pilon pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness to the charges against her. Her jury trial was set for May 8.

The April 13 change-of-plea hearing was originally set as a pretrial conference.

Sublette County Deputy Attorney Adrian Kowalski, White and Pilon reached a plea agreement that if Pilon pleaded no contest to Counts I and III, Kowalski could ask the judge to impose concurrent sentences of eight to 10 years in prison but would not oppose White’s recommendations of youthful offender treatment and probation.

Judge McKay questioned Pilon closely under oath about her mental clarity. Pilon said she suffers from mental illness and constant physical pain, sees a psychiatrist and takes prescribed medications that “make me think like a normal person.”

The judge relied on facts in incident affidavits, checking that Pilon understood no contest pleas mean the state likely had enough evidence to convict her at trial.

Judge McKay ordered a pre-sentence investigation, a restitution plan and a victim impact statement for Pilon's as-yet unscheduled sentencing hearing in about 75 days.