BILLINGS - Two people pleaded not guilty to felony charges Wednesday for the death of 19-year-old Alexus 'Lexy' Pyle who was killed in a two-car accident in Billings on Aug. 3, 2021.
Payton Hunter, 20, and Justin Bighair, 33, are both charged with negligent homicide and criminal endangerment.
Both were released on their own recognizance after the not guilty pleas. If convicted, they face a maximum of 30 years in prison.
Pyle was a passenger in Hunter's car on the night of the accident. According to court documents, Hunter was driving a black 2007 Dodge Ram 2500 pickup truck westbound on 1st Avenue North shortly after 9:30 p.m.
A witness said Hunter was speeding and had just run a red light near Berry's Cherries when he struck Bighair's 2019 Toyota Tundra while Bighair was attempting to turn left onto 1st Avenue North from North 12th Street near The Loft bar.
Pyle was pronounced dead at the scene. Both Hunter and Bighair were transported to Billings Clinic for medical treatment. Both provided blood samples upon request from Billings police officers. Bighair's blood-alcohol content was reported as .061%, according to court documents. Hunter's BAC level was not reported, but he admitted to police that he had been drinking prior to the crash.
Neither Pyle nor Hunter were wearing a seat belt. Both Bighair and a passenger in Bighair's car were wearing seat belts. The passenger refused medical treatment at the site of the accident.
"This day has been a day we've been waiting for since (the accident) happened," said Melissa Sayler Dunn, Pyle's mother. "Honestly, it's been a relief to have it done."
Pyle's family expressed frustration at the nearly nine-month wait for Hunter and Bighair to be charged.
"It is frustrating because you see it, you know what they did is careless and negligent, and they don't just (charge them), and you can't understand why," Dunn said. "The justice system is for criminals, and it never helps the good guy."
"There's so much crime in Billings nowadays that the prosecutors are bogged down, the police are bogged down," said Nate Sayler, Lexy's uncle. "The crash team here isn't enough. It's on-duty beat cops that are volunteering to do a job on top of their other job when they have time. It's not enough. It needs to be addressed."
As part of their release order, Hunter and Bighair will submit to alcohol monitoring. Both are scheduled for a pretrial hearing on June 13.