Public defender might seek mental evaluation for Balls
Grand County Public Defender Aaron Wise knew his client for only a few minutes before he asked Seventh Judicial District Judge Don Torgerson to order an evaluation of Benjamin Thomas Balls’ mental capacity.
“I was working for God,” said Balls, 42, the Cache County man charged in the Feb. 9 high-speed traffic crash deaths of two Moabites and the injury of another. Balls made the comment during his first court appearance Tuesday while Torgerson questioned him about his financial status in order to determine whether he qualified for the public defender.
“How much is he paying you?” the judge said without breaking stride.
“Not much,” said Balls, who later told the judge he earned about $1,200 a month, but he never did say how he earned his money. He added he is the father of five.
Torgerson assigned the case to Wise and after a few moments of private conversation, Balls and Wise stood before Torgerson. The attorney said Balls agreed to waive his right to a preliminary hearing and asked for a March 3 hearing date for further proceedings.
“What’s a preliminary hearing?” said Balls.
Wise then requested a competency hearing for his client.
Grand County Chief Deputy Attorney Matt Brooks told the court his office is awaiting toxicology results on Balls.
Torgerson set a March 31 preliminary hearing. A competency hearing might be held, as well.
Balls was allegedly driving at high speed a 2020 Chevrolet Silverado pickup when he blew through Main Street stoplights before crashing into an SUV driven by Moab pastor Vilsar Camey. The impact killed Camey and mortally wounded his son, 10-year-old Israel Camey, who died two days after the crash.
Balls allegedly crashed into another SUV driven by Katherine Sawyer. The crash caused Sawyer to give premature birth.
According to law enforcement reports, two calls to 911 prior to the crash claimed Balls had tried to run them off of Highway 191 as he sped north toward Moab. A Utah Highway Patrol trooper attempted to pull over Balls, who was driving at over 100 mph when the trooper ended the pursuit at Highway 191 and 400 East.
A Grand County Sheriff’s deputy said Balls was traveling in excess of 80 mph when he hit the brakes just before crashing into Camey, who was making a left turn onto Main from Center.
Brooks and Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan filed the complaint against Balls prior to Tuesday’s hearing.
He faces two counts of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, for allegedly causing the deaths of the Cameys, he faces one count of aggravated assault, a second-degree felony, for the injuries he allegedly caused to Sawyer, and failure to respond to an officers signal to stop, fleeing, a second-degree felony. He also has been charged with a class B misdemeanor count of reckless driving and class C misdemeanors for allegedly driving without proof of insurance and failure to obey a traffic control device.
The sentencing range for a class 2 felony is from one to 15 years. If ultimately convicted, Torgerson could conceivably sentence Balls to concurrent terms for each charge.