Dozens of people, some of who are friends and family of the late Chance Geery, gathered in front of the Missoula County Courthouse. They carried signs asking for justice for the young man who was killed on April 1 by a distracted driver while walking on the sidewalk along Mullan Road.

Mr. and Mrs. Geery
photo by Peter Christian

Also at the rally were Chance's parents, who were greeted with hugs and tears. Chance's father Todd still struggles with the concept that the woman, Yoon Hee Cho, who killed his son, was never charged with a felony and will only serve 30 days of house arrest.

"The reason I'm here, is essentially they said that there was no real law on the books to charge her with," Geery said. "I'm extremely blown away by that concept, since we live in a town that promotes biking and walking. You'd think in a town like that, you'd have some sort of suitable penalty for that type of an accident."

Geery met with Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg and City Attorney James Nugent this week, as the officials attempted to explain the laws concerning distracted driving and driving with gross negligence.

"I'm being told by the people in the room that day that there's nothing they can do," Geery said. "This has happened before. They said their hands were tied and there's nothing in place in the careless driving arena for it."

Geery is still disturbed over what he refers to as a hole in the judicial system.

"What bothers me most of all is the fact that they sat and watched this happen more than once, and here we are again," Geery said. "It's not about Yoon Hee at all. She's a victim essentially, too. She got off easier than she should have, but I think that's because of a hole in the system."

Chance Geery's father Todd

Van Valkenburg attended the rally as well. He said he was there responding to a phone call asking him to attend, so that supporters of the Geery family could have their questions answered regarding the charges against the driver.

Fred Van Valkenburg at Geery rally
photo by Peter Christian

"First, it's part of my job to be here and answer questions," Van Valkenburg said. "But it's also a matter of showing respect for Chance and his family to show that I care as much about Chance as anyone who was not close to him could care... and I think it's my responsibility to do that."

Van Valkenburg said attempting to explain the laws of felonies versus misdemeanors to a grieving family was heartbreaking.

"It's very difficult," he said. "This is a situation where clearly, the woman who hit Chance was negligent, but there's no evidence she was grossly negligent. Under Montana law, we would have to prove gross negligence in order to prosecute her for the offense of negligent homicide, a felony offense."

Van Valkenburg also answered another question that had been simmering since the day of the accident: why the woman's name was never released to the public until just recently.

"Number one, she was not charged with anything until recently, and police investigations such as these are confidential until it is completed, and that's how anyone would be treated," Van Valkenburg said. "There was no conspiracy to hold her name back. No matter who had hit that young man, their name would not have been released publicly unless they were arrested on the spot. The only reason that would have occurred is if there had been evidence of drunk driving."

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg