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Mayor defends veto

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A June 29 auto accident that killed Lyle Bagnell, the longtime voice of Frenchtown football, sparked an impromptu reevaluation of Missoula Mayor John Engen's partial veto of the city's cell phone ordinance.

The crash, which is still under investigation, occurred on Highway 93 near Arlee in Lake County. According to Bagnell's family, the beloved announcer died after a car driving in the opposite direction crossed the center line and collided with Bagnell's vehicle. Bagnell's niece, Missoula County resident Kim Bagnell, says information provided to her by responding officers suggests the other driver may have been distracted by talking on a cell phone.

Armed with that information, Kim Bagnell issued an emotional plea at the July 1 Missoula County Commissioner's meeting asking that the group consider a county-wide cell phone ban for drivers. Since Missoula County is not a self-governing entity, the commissioners pointed her to Missoula's City Council.

"I don't know if you're aware that Missoula city basically tried to pass a cell phone ordinance and it failed," Commissioner Michele Landquist told Bagnell at the meeting. "It got vetoed."

Unprovoked, Landquist added that she thought it didn't pass for political reasons. "It's an election year," Landquist said. "I'm going to call it like I see it."

Engen, who is running unopposed in the upcoming election, heard about the exchange and wrote a letter to Bagnell explaining his veto. "This decision was based on my belief that the ordinance as written would not have prevented a single accident or saved a single life," he wrote. "That belief is unchanged."

Landquist backed away from her earlier comments when contacted by the Independent this week.

"That was something I just threw out," she says. "[Kim Bagnell] wanted answers. It was spur of the moment, off the cuff and I probably shouldn't have said it, but people around me have thrown that out."

Landquist went on to say she believed Engen's letter was "well thought out" and commended the mayor's thoroughness in making decisions.

Kim Bagnell, meanwhile, intends to take her fight for a cell phone ordinance to the Montana Legislature in 2011.

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