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'Broke my heart': Victim's family emotional after Billings woman appears in court

Amber Dawn Walter makes first court appearance; McColley family in attendance
Mary, Kataraina, and Kassi
Posted at 6:44 PM, Apr 25, 2024

BILLINGS — Family members said Thursday that they believe the driver charged with a felony related to the hit-and-run death of Kassi McColley of Laurel should face a harsher penalty.

On Thursday morning in Yellowstone County District Court, the driver, 40-year-old Amber Dawn Walter, appeared in court for the first time on a felony charge for allegedly leaving the scene of the crash in the early February death of 28-year-old McColley. Walter entered a plea of not guilty.

"Losing my sister, and for my mom losing her daughter, it's changed our life," said Kataraina McColley, Kassi's younger sister, on Thursday. "It's just been so, so difficult for us. We've been through it all."

Kataraina McColley
Kataraina McColley

It’s a nightmare the McColley family can’t seem to wake up from.

"This is a process. And as fast as we want it to go, it takes time,” said McColley.

Amber Dawn Walter in court
Amber Dawn Walter in court

Walter was arraigned on two counts:
-Failure to stop or remain at an accident scene involving death or serious bodily injury, a felony
-Failure to give notice of accident by quickest means/apparent damage over $1,000, a misdemeanor

If convicted of the most serious crime, Walter would face 10 years in prison and up to a $50,000 fine for the most serious felony charge.

Affidavit
Affidavit

"I do wish there were stronger charges. However, I do respect the fact of the charges that they need to go by a certain set of rules,” said Mary McColley, Kassi's mother, on Thursday. "I feel that it will come out later, that they may change to be stronger. But I'm just going to put my faith in God that there will be the appropriate charges."

Mary McColley
Mary McColley

Court documents allege Walter admitted to hitting what she believed to be a deer on Jan. 31, but she did not stop. She then told investigators she remembered pulling over about a mile down the road, then traveled to her home in the Billings Heights—never returning to the scene of the accident.

"I've really tried to see from Amber's point of perspective. And obviously, I can't,” Kataraina said. "Maybe she was drunk. We don't know. We don't know those factors. We don't know anything that could have played into what made her leave the scene."

Prosecutors have not presented evidence that Walter was drunk, although she was previously convicted on an unrelated misdemeanor DUI charge.

Walter claimed she found out that investigators were looking for her vehicle through social media. She then called in and informed them she believed the suspect vehicle to be her own, according to the affidavit.

"I have a lot of things that I cannot say just for the integrity of the case, but I do wish there were stronger charges," said Mary.

Prosecutors said in court that if 911 was called, Kassi might still be alive—an assertion Mary said she was told by an investigator.

"I knew that. But it was really different to hear that in a legal setting in court. It broke my heart, to be honest with you. I think a lot of the public is not aware that Kassi did not die upon impact. She succumbed to her injuries, and she could have been saved," said Mary. "I have been waiting for that to come back from the other side for quite a while since she was killed. Kassi had eight investigators and one of them told me that very openly and honestly."

According to the family, laid out in court docs, Kassi was fleeing a domestic violence situation on Jan. 31. Loved ones were unable to make contact with her following a phone call that was cut short. Over the next few days, there were no signs of Kassi—until Feb. 4, when Mary discovered her body on the side of the road.

Mary, Kataraina, and Kassi
Mary, Kataraina, and Kassi

"Losing somebody like this is destructive to an entire family, not to mention Kassi's eight-year-old little girl,” Mary said. "You got to think about the human life that is so valuable."

MTN News reached out to the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office requesting an interview or statement but was told it couldn't comment on an ongoing case.

Walter’s next court date is set for June 10.

Arraignment of Amber Dawn Walter
Arraignment of Amber Dawn Walter

"I spoke to the prosecutor today, along with my mom, and they are doing the best that they can,” Kataraina said. "We were a little bit thrown off by the charges because obviously, being her sister and a mother, you're going to want somebody that, in my eyes, killed my sister, to get the maximum charge."

Mary recently set up a petition on Change.org in honor of Kassi.

"I would really appreciate it if everybody could go sign Kassi's petition," Mary said. "A lot of people have reached out from the public, to just really give me a lot of love and support. And I just thank you so much for that."

On June 17 at Hooligan's Sports Bar, the McColley's will hold a fundraiser they hope the public will attend.

"We're dedicating that to domestic violence awareness," said Mary. "Remember Kassi's memory."

"Hooligan's, you guys are amazing. We can't stress that enough," said Kataraina.

The family just wants to see justice served.

"My sister was my best friend. I didn't even realize it until it was taken away from me," Kataraina said. "So count your blessings. And every day, just recognize what you have and cherish that."

Mary, Kataraina, Kassi
Mary, Kataraina, Kassi

To read MTN's initial report on Kassi, click here.

To view the Change.org petition, click here.