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Disputed traffic violation results in court trial

Phillip Sprute, of Great Falls, Mont., talks with a reporter after his court trial in McCook County Monday afternoon in Salem. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

SALEM — A Montana man was convicted Monday of a traffic offense that no law enforcement officer saw. McCook County State’s Attorney Mike Fink used evidence from the defendant’s dashboard camera in magistrate court to prove his case against a Montana trucker. Magistrate Judge Gordon Swanson found Phillip Sprute, 51, of Great Falls, Mont., guilty of charges cited in a July 14 traffic ticket, but gave him a suspended imposition of sentence. Sprute said fighting the stop sign violation cost him about $700 in travel expenses, plus the $120 fine imposed by Swanson on Monday. “I didn’t want the points on my license,” he said, noting his 20 years as a professional trucker and the importance of a clean record.

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Based on statements from Spencer resident Kara Stone and a later interview with Sprute, Highway Patrol Trooper Casey Bassett said he ticketed Sprute for failing to stop at a stop sign with a freight truck around 8:40 p.m. July 14 at the end of the eastbound Spencer off-ramp at Exit 353.

Stone, who was driving south on 431st Street, said that Sprute slowed for the sign but failed to come to a complete stop. Bassett said he ticketed Sprute about two weeks after the incident, based on Stone’s comments and a recommendation made by State’s Attorney Fink.

Sprute, who spoke in his own defense Monday, asked Stone why she was so aggressive in her reactions at the time, blowing her horn and waving at his truck.

“Because my child was endangered,” she answered. “You would have been mad, too.”

In his testimony Trooper Bassett said Sprute offered him a digital storage card from his truck’s dashboard camera.

“He said if I watched the video I could see that his truck slowed to 3 mph,” Bassett said. He said Sprute later told him his truck came to a complete stop.

Sprute did not object to the video file being entered as state’s evidence.

Sprute said after his trial, he hoped when he gave Bassett the video that it would “make this all go away so I wouldn’t have to be in court.”

Swanson, after taking a brief recess to view the video file, found Sprute failed to come to a complete stop or to yield the right-of-way to Stone’s vehicle. He also found that Stone was within her rights to file a complaint.

Fink, however, noted in his comments to Swanson that the video showed the truck was barely moving at that stop.

“I know that Mr. Sprute has a good driving record, your honor, and I understand that his employment is at stake,” Fink said, noting he would not object to a suspended imposition of sentence.

Swanson warned Sprute that the suspended imposition of sentence is an once-in-a-lifetime deal. If Sprute has no further violations within the next six months, no conviction will be entered and his driving record will be sealed.

Sprute said later he has been running his dashboard camera since 2006.

While the camera may have proved he did not stop completely, it also proved that he did not act recklessly, he said and Swanson’s judgment is proof of that.

“If he actually believed that I actually ran through the stop sign with no regard for the safety and well-being of other motorists, don’t you think the judge would have done something different?” he said.