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Yellowstone County task force honors lives lost to drunken driving

Yellowstone County task force honors lives lost to drunken driving
Posted at 8:50 AM, Dec 16, 2022

BILLINGS — On Thursday, two more angels were added to an angel tree in Billings in the annual ceremony held by the Yellowstone County DUI Task Force to honor lives lost from impaired drivers.

The Christmas tree sits inside the lobby of the Yellowstone County courthouse.

Spencer James Budde, 5, was one of two new names added to this year’s angel tree. His life ended suddenly in November 2019 when his mother decided to get behind the wheel after drinking. The accident also left James’ 6-year-old sister paralyzed. Last month, Kaylea Lynn Mullendore, 32, Budde's mother, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Budde’s father and sister were present at the event to place his angel on the tree.

Sheldon Kyle American Horse of Billings was the other victim honored. A drunken driver took his life in October 2020. His family was present to place his angel on the tree.

“In Montana, we’ve always been if not the leader, pretty close to the leader, in highway fatalities. A lot of that is Montana substance problems, either alcohol or drugs,” said Billings Police Officer Brandon Ihde. Ihde is the chair of the DUI task force.

According to Montana Highway Patrol, 84 deaths from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 in 2022 were attributed to driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“Average blood alcohol (of those pulled over for drunken driving) in Montana in that nine-month period is .180. Which is greater than double the legal limit to drive," Ihde said.

In addition to honoring those lost, the task force also gave Award of Merits to individuals who made outstanding contributions to community awareness and DUI enforcement.

Jeannie Martin, a member of the task force who received an award, knows firsthand what these families are going through.

“My daughter was killed by a drunk driver,” Martin said.

She said she lost her 23-year-old daughter many years ago. She said she is now dedicated to trying to make a difference.

“I think of her every day. You never forget when you lose a child,” Martin said.