New details learned in March hit-and-run death of cyclist near Pocatello
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POCATELLO — A cyclist hit by a truck in March may not have died immediately, according to a medical examiner who testified in court Wednesday.
Dr. Garth Warren, a forensic pathologist, gave his professional opinion during the preliminary hearing for 38-year-old Tyler Carter, who appeared for the hearing via Zoom dressed in a blue shirt, gold tie and blue mask. Carter is the man Bannock County investigators say was behind the wheel of a pickup truck when it struck and killed 40-year-old Bobette Wilhelm near Pocatello on March 13. Investigators say Carter then fled the scene.
It’s not clear how investigators tied Carter to the case, but he was arrested on March 19 and charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. Details of the arrest were not shared at Wednesday’s hearing. The majority of the hearing was spent listening to Warren, who performed the autopsy on Wilhelm’s body and described how she was found by authorities.
“The best way for me to say it, the injuries that I found are consistent with (Wilhelm) being struck by a vehicle,” Warren said.
Warren said Wilhelm sustained both internal and external injuries. On the outside, the pathologist noted several lacerations and scrapes. Inside the damage was more severe. Wilhelm sustained trauma to the head and neck, leading to brain bleeds that could have killed her within minutes or taken days.
“I’m not able to pinpoint how long it took (Wilhelm) to die from these injuries,” Warren said. “All I can say based on what I have found and based on the scene it is possible she lived for some time.”
Investigators have previously stated at a news conference that Carter allegedly hit and killed Wilhelm on March 13. People found her body three days later in a ravine near Buckskin Road outside Pocatello.
Warren said photos from the crime scene paint a picture of Wilhelm struggling on the ground after landing in the ravine. He said Wilhelm’s arms and legs were apparently moving after the crash “because she was almost essentially digging into the dirt with her arms and her feet,” creating what he called a “dirt angel.”
The only sign of decomposition to Wilhelm’s body by the time of the autopsy was slight green discoloration of the bowel which Warren said can happen rapidly after death. Typically it indicates the person has not been dead for long, but due to the cold March weather, it made it difficult to identify a specific time of death.
The preliminary hearing for Carter is scheduled to continue on Oct. 8 and details like how Carter was made the prime suspect will likely be unveiled.
At the moment, most of the information about the case came from a short Bannock County news conference. During that conference, detectives said they found pieces of a green 1989-1999 Chevrolet pickup or SUV at the scene of the crash. We also know investigators received some sort of tip, which ultimately led them to look into Carter.
Most details in the case have been hard to come by.
At the time of Carter’s arrest, Magistrate Judge Thomas W. Clark sealed the entire case file with no explanation at the request of the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office. Sealed items included the docket, criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause, all items typically available to the public.
While court documents existed, they remained out of view of the public eye with the sealing of the case. The nature of the charges, upcoming court dates and other details were never readily available to the public or the media.
EastIdahoNews.com repeatedly spoke with court officials over the past several months trying to get details on the case.
After getting no information, EastIdahoNews.com filed a public records request in late August asking for the case involving Carter to be unsealed. Court hearings were repeatedly pushed back and the issue was not discussed until Wednesday.
Before the commencement of the preliminary hearing, Magistrate Judge Aaron N. Thompson decided to unseal parts of the case. However, the affidavit of probable cause and other sworn affidavits remain sealed. Thompson said he had concerns with how the records were sealed.
“The court can seal the record but there needs to be written findings,” Thompson said. “… We will make the appropriate unsealing of the file, everything else will remain under seal.”
The Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office objected to Thompson unsealing the case.
“The reason for placing the seal is to protect the case from too much information being publicized to a potential jury in the community,” Bannock County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Godfrey said in court. “We would not want it to jeopardize any trial by having jurors with more information than is necessary.”
Bannock County Public Defender David Martinez represents Carter and said he felt indifferent about having the case unsealed. But Martinez felt that in order to request having the documents unsealed, EastIdahoNews.com should have taken civil action or filed a lawsuit rather than the standard public records request.
Idaho Public Records Law does allow the public and the media to submit a written records request for the documents in a criminal case. The custodian of records has three business days to respond and 10 total business days to fulfill the request or it’s considered denied.
As of Thursday afternoon, documents in the case were still not published on the court’s online portal for public access.
Carter’s preliminary hearing will continue on Oct. 8. He is no longer in custody at the Bannock County Jail.
If convicted of felony involuntary manslaughter Carter could be ordered to spend up to 10-years in prison. Felony leaving the scene of an accident holds up to five years in prison.