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Sedlmeier changes plea to guilty in fatal crash

Michael Sedlmeier is led into the courtroom for an appearance at the Davison County Public Safety Center in Mitchell in this file photo. (Chris Huber/Republic)

The man accused of causing a March 24 traffic crash in Mitchell that led to the death of a 9-year-old girl changed his plea to guilty Tuesday morning.

Michael Ray Sedlmeier, 46, had entered a not guilty plea April 17, but an agreement with prosecutors -- reached only moments before court was scheduled to start at the Davison County Public Safety Center in Mitchell -- led to the change.

In exchange for Sedlmeier's guilty pleas to first-degree manslaughter and third-offense drunken driving, various other charges were dismissed, including aggravated eluding and vehicular homicide. Prosecutors also agreed to ask for no more than a 40-year prison sentence and to let any prison time for the two charges run concurrently. Sedlmeier and his attorney Donna Bucher, of the Mitchell-based law firm Tinan, Smith and Bucher, are still free to argue for a lesser sentence.

Before the agreement was made, Sedlmeier was facing a maximum of life in prison for first-degree manslaughter.

Though Sedlmeier seemed composed for most of Tuesday's court proceeding, a question from Judge Sean O'Brien -- asked to establish the required factual basis for Sedlmeier's plea to first-degree manslaughter -- stirred some emotion.

"Do you admit that you killed Iszabella Jean Morgan?" O'Brien asked.

"Yes sir," Sedlmeier replied with tears beginning to well in his eyes. Other than private talks with his attorney, Sedlmeier spoke only when asked questions by O'Brien.

Sedlmeier has been in Davison County Jail since he was arrested after an incident that began when he was seen speeding by a Mitchell police officer, but refused to pull over. A pursuit ensued and ended quickly when Sedlmeier ignored a stop sign at the intersection of First Avenue and Duff Street, and his vehicle collided with an SUV carrying six people. One of the passengers in the SUV, Iszabella "Bella" Morgan, 9, of Mitchell, was ejected from the vehicle and died of the injuries she suffered in the crash.

According to court documents, Sedlmeier's blood alcohol content was 0.206 shortly after the crash. The legal limit for driving in South Dakota is 0.08.

Once O'Brien accepted the guilty pleas, he ordered a presentence investigation and scheduled sentencing for later this month.