A man who crashed his car last year and then traded gunshots with a Cache County rescue worker, pleaded guilty Tuesday to lesser charges.
Cade M. Austin – who was injured in the Dec. 15 shootout with Assistant Smithfield City Fire Chief Jeremy Hunt – was charged with two counts of first-degree felony attempted murder and a slew of misdemeanor counts.
On Tuesday, Austin pleaded guilty in 1st District Court to one count each of attempted murder and aggravated assault, both second-degree felonies punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
In exchange for his pleas, the other counts were dismissed.
Also as part of the plea deal, prosecutors will recommend that the 30-year-old Preston, Idaho man serve the two prison terms concurrently.
Sentencing is set for next month before Judge Kevin Allen.
Deputy Cache County Attorney Spencer Walsh said Tuesday that the victims – Hunt and Lewiston city EMT Nathan Sisson – were comfortable with the plea deal.
Walsh said the deal took into account that Austin has expressed remorse, and that his blood-alcohol level after the episode tested at 0.412 – which is more than five times the legal limit of 0.08 for driving in Utah.
Despite his extreme intoxication, Austin conceded that he was able to form the mental intent to shoot off nine rounds from a handgun at the two men trying to assist him after the crash.
“He admitted he committed the crimes of attempted murder and aggravated assault,” Walsh said.
During a February preliminary hearing, Hunt described the situation as shoot or be shot.
Hunt, who has a concealed firearms license, testified that Austin – who had been traveling on U.S. Highway 91 about a mile south of the Idaho border ccc crashed into a natural gas regulating device, which began to spew gas.
The first responders were EMTs from the Smithfield City Fire Department, including Hunt, who testified that Austin appeared “agitated” and “fidgety” as Hunt began pleading with Austin to turn off his car.
“I said, ‘Can you hear that loud hissing? That is raw natural gas that is going to explode if you do not shut that vehicle off,’ ” Hunt testified.
Hunt said Austin eventually turned off the engine. But as he continued talking to the man, Hunt testified, Austin became increasingly nervous, zipping his hooded sweatshirt up and down, and moving his fidgeting hands closer to his waistband.
“Our main concern at this point,” Hunt testified, “was to get him out of the vehicle and all of us away from that gas line.”
When another officer told Austin that they should get him out of the car, Hunt testified that Austin quickly moved his hands to his waistband and pulled out a gun.
Hunt testified that he, in turn, pulled out his own gun, stuck it inside Austin’s vehicle and fired. Austin allegedly fired his gun, as well, though Hunt couldn’t remember who shot first.
Hunt said he then backed up and continued to shoot through the back window of the car until he saw that the driver was “slumped over.”
“I knew if that gun made it to the window, one of us was going to die, me or one of my partners” Hunt testified.
Sisson saw the barrel of the gun and “hit the deck as shots were being fired,” according to Walsh.
Austin’s attorney, Bryan Galloway, could not be reached for comment.