James Sinclair Welch, the son of a New York hedge-fund manager, pleaded not guilty to charges that he killed a passenger in an all-terrain vehicle while driving intoxicated at Montana’s exclusive Yellowstone Club.
Welch, 19, was arrested after the Aug. 2 incident on a charge of negligent vehicular homicide under the influence of alcohol and was arraigned today before Madison County District Court Judge Loren Tucker in state court in Virginia City.
“There are two sides to every story,” Welch’s attorney, John E. Smith, said before the hearing.
Welch is the son of Leighton Welch, founder of Welch Capital Partners LLC. The New York hedge fund had $350 million in assets at the end of December, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The family lives in Bronxville, New York.
Leighton Welch and his wife, Bea, appeared in the courtroom with their son and his lawyer and made no comment. James Welch, wearing khaki pants and a blue-and-white checkered shirt, responded to the judge’s questions in a quiet voice.
During a late-night ride with his former prep-school roommate, Welch made a turn, causing Parker Regan, 19, to fall out of the vehicle, according to an affidavit filed by a Montana highway patrolman. Regan died after responders tried to administer first aid.
The Yellowstone Club is a ski-and-golf club west of Bozeman. Members include Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates, Tour de France champion Greg LeMond and hedge fund manager Cliff Asness of AQR Capital Management LLC.
Regan was visiting the club with the Welch family, his father, R. Christopher Regan, said in an Aug. 3 interview. Welch and Regan were roommates at Suffield Academy, a boarding school in Suffield, Connecticut, where Regan was an honor student, according to the school’s website. Christopher Regan, in an e-mail today, declined to comment on the hearing.
Welch was driving a 2012 Polaris Ranger Crew, a four-wheel- drive vehicle. He told police he was making a left turn on Andesite Ridge Road when Regan “fell out,” according to the affidavit by Montana Highway Patrolman Joshua Brown.
After the accident, Welch refused to submit to a breath test, according to Brown’s report. Welch smelled of alcohol, his eyes were watery and bloodshot and his clothes were bloody, according to the report. An examination of the area showed that Welch had been driving on the wrong side of the road, Brown wrote.
Welch posted $50,000 bail and was released from jail Aug. 3. As a condition of bail, Welch will live at home and wear an ankle monitor, Smith said today in court.
“He has been doing everything for several weeks that is required of him,” Smith told Tucker. “He has been involved in a very intensive chemical dependence trauma counseling program. He’s been very traumatized by these events as well.”
Welch told the judge that he was participating in the program daily. “Hopefully I’ll be going to Richmond University in the fall,” he said.
“You strike me as a reasonably intelligent young man,” Tucker said to Welch. The judge warned him to obey the rules, including not drinking alcohol or taking drugs and obeying a 9 p.m. curfew unless he is at work or attending the program, or “you probably will be in jail.”
Madison County Attorney Chris Christensen, who appeared in court for the state, said his office is still investigating and waiting for results of Welch’s blood tests.
“I’m hoping to get the results within 90 days,” he said.
In a separate incident, Welch pleaded guilty April 17 to “driving while ability impaired,” a traffic violation, in Roscoe, New York, and completed the state’s Drinking Driver Program, Smith said.
Membership at the Yellowstone Club is limited primarily to those who own one of the houses or condominiums scattered among 15 ski lifts and an 18-hole golf course. Prices range from $2.5 million for a condominium to $18 million for a ranch with 350 acres. Members pay a $300,000 initiation fee that they get back if they sell their property. Dues are $30,000 a year.
Leighton Welch is the son of James O. Welch Jr., according to his 1987 wedding announcement in the New York Times. The James O. Welch Co., founded by Leighton’s grandfather, made Junior Mints and other candy before being sold to the National Biscuit Co., according to the elder James’s obituary in the Times in 1985.
The case is Montana v. Welch, DC-29-2012017, Fifth Judicial District Court, Madison County (Virginia City, Montana).
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