Judge orders defendant to submit DNA in fatal crash case

By: 
Justin Post —
Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A District Court judge has ruled that a former Livingston man must submit a DNA sample after being charged for the third time in a 2015 single-vehicle accident that left a 17-year-old dead.

Walter J. “Joey” Overstreet Jr. is charged with felony counts of vehicular homicide while under the influence and two counts of negligent vehicular assault in the Dec. 13, 2015 crash that killed Rhiannon Wills and severely injured two others. Overstreet has twice been tried in the matter in Montana’s Sixth Judicial District Court. Both cases ended in mistrials from hung juries.

Park County Attorney Kendra Lassiter recently refiled charges against Overstreet in the crash, and is being assisted by Daniel M. Guzynski of the Montana Attorney General’s Office. Lassiter has said she decided to again pursue charges against Overstreet at the request of the mother of Rhiannon Wills.

Lassiter and Guzynski are seeking a DNA sample from Overstreet to compare it with swabs taken from the driver’s side air bag of the vehicle from the crash. 

“The Defendant has previously denied being the driver of the vehicle causing the death and injury to the victims in this case,” court documents state. “Currently the Montana State Crime Lab is in possession of the driver’s side air bag that was deployed during the crash.”

District Judge Brenda Gilbert on Tuesday granted the prosecution’s request to obtain a DNA sample from Overstreet, through what’s known as a “buccal swab.”

“Within 15 days of the issuance of this order the Defendant is ordered to make himself available to a law enforcement officer designated by the State, for the purpose of obtaining a buccal swab from the Defendant,” Judge Gilbert’s order states.

Overstreet’s attorney, Jami Rebsom of Livingston, has argued in court documents that a swab to collect DNA from Overstreet and efforts to preserve the accident scene would have been proper when the accident happened. Yet she argues officers left the scene following the Dec. 13, 2015 crash “in the hands of a tow truck company who disturbed the evidence, and contaminated the vehicle and accident scene on the night of the accident.”

Furthermore, Rebsom said Overstreet previously requested through his attorney the air bags be sent to the state crime lab for testing, but that the state refused. She also pointed out in court documents that following Overstreet’s second trial, the truck was left unsecured in a parking lot on a busy highway “where anyone could have had access to the vehicle.”

She argued that Overstreet should not be subjected to a DNA swab because evidence was not preserved and is contaminated.

The court found Tuesday that the prosecution has complied with state law and that the request to collect DNA from Overstreet relates to the offenses for which he’s charged. Meanwhile, the prosecution filed notice with the court of applying for a search warrant to collect DNA from Chaz Gabauer and Travis McNeill, two of the other young people in the accident vehicle.