Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 31° Cloudy
News >  Crime/Public Safety

Rathdrum man returns to court on vehicular manslaughter charge, six months after deadly crash

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 30, 2018

Alexa Mrgich, 23, died after being hit by a pickup truck on June 16, 2018. The driver, Varsel Jarnagin, 40, appeared in Kootenai County District Court on Thursday to be arraigned on a charge of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. (Facebook)
Alexa Mrgich, 23, died after being hit by a pickup truck on June 16, 2018. The driver, Varsel Jarnagin, 40, appeared in Kootenai County District Court on Thursday to be arraigned on a charge of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. (Facebook)

It was almost noon on a warm Saturday in June, and Alexa Mrgich was on her way to breakfast with some companions.

The 23-year-old was riding on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle, wearing his helmet, while another friend rode his bike alongside them. They slowed down while approaching a stop sign at a quiet intersection near Rathdrum. But the pickup truck behind them did not stop soon enough.

It plowed into them.

Everyone involved in the collision was hurt, but Mrgich took the brunt of the impact. An ambulance arrived, and she was pronounced dead upon arrival at Kootenai Health. The others, including her boyfriend, walked away with minor injuries.

“Basically, she saved his life,” Mrgich’s mother, Chloe Westwood, said in an interview Thursday.

On Thursday morning, the man identified as the driver of the truck, 40-year-old Varsel M. Jarnagin, appeared in Kootenai County District Court to be arraigned on a charge of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. Judge Scott Wayman said Jarnagin is accused of hitting the motorcyclists “after having ingested heroin, methamphetamine and/or marijuana the night before, thus driving with a delayed or altered perception and reaction time.”

The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Although it was his arraignment, Jarnagin did not enter a plea Thursday because nearly six months after the crash, no public defender had been appointed to his case. A new arraignment hearing was scheduled for Dec. 21.

Jarnagin, who has a lengthy criminal record, made an initial court appearance on the manslaughter charge in July after he was arrested on an unrelated charge of heroin trafficking. The county prosecutor’s office later empaneled a grand jury, which indicted Jarnagin on the manslaughter charge earlier this month. He was arrested again and bonded out of jail on Nov. 13.

The judge had ordered the indictment be sealed from public view until Jarnagin could be taken into custody. Prosecutor Barry McHugh said indictments are typically unsealed once charges are read in court, but as of Thursday the full contents of Jarnagin’s indictment remained secret.

In a news release announcing Jarnagin’s arrest in July, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said he had been arrested at least 25 times in the past 20 years, most recently on charges of domestic assault and heroin trafficking.

A summary of his case history provided by the court clerk’s office shows 15 misdemeanor convictions since 1992, including theft, battery, drug possession, disturbing the peace and violations of a protection order. In 1999, he pleaded guilty to drug possession with intent to deliver, a felony, and the following year he violated probation, also a felony.

Westwood, Mrgich’s mother, attended Thursday’s hearing with a group of family members. She said Jarnagin apologized to her in the courthouse before the hearing, but she would not accept an apology unless he accepts guilt for her daughter’s death.

“I said, ‘You don’t get to talk to me unless you go in there and own it,’” she said.

Mrgich grew up in northwestern Montana and attended high school in Kalispell and Eureka, her mother said. She had five siblings, played softball and loved hunting and the outdoors. She moved out when she was 17 and spent several years in North Dakota before moving to the Spokane Valley area. At the time of the crash, she had been moving in with her boyfriend in Post Falls, working as a restaurant server in Coeur d’Alene and studying to become a hairstylist.

“She was a very big personality,” Westwood said. “She had a lot of heart, and she worked really hard, and she was not afraid to do anything.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, to correct where Mrgich attended high school. A previous version also misstated the severity of the vehicular manslaughter charge. It is a felony.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.