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Mont. state senator drove in wreck injuring U.S. Rep

HELENA, Mont. — A state lawmaker was at the helm of the speedboat that crashed into the rocky Flathead Lake shore — a serious accident that hospitalized five, including U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, a family spokesman said Saturday.

Rehberg's office shed more light on the late Thursday crash, including the severity of the injuries suffered by two staffers on the boat. One, state director Dustin Frost, has a serious but "survivable" head injury and is under the care of a neurosurgeon, said Rehberg friend and former staff chief Erik Iverson.

The Republican congressman was recovering from ankle surgery, and had a fracture around his eye, but could be released as soon as Monday, Iverson said.

The boat was owned and driven by Kalispell Republican state Sen. Greg Barkus, who was said to be up and about, although Iverson said he had not sought, or been given, permission to discuss Barkus' specific condition.

Rehberg's wife, Jan, also talked to reporters on a Saturday morning conference call, and said the outpouring of concern was very touching.

"Denny is in good condition and has been lucid from the beginning," she said. "He is still in good spirits and very able to communicate and knows what's going on."

Another Rehberg staffer, Kristin Smith, suffered several fractures, including to the nose and wrist, but could be released in a couple of days. There was no such timeline for Frost, who was responsive but not holding conversations, Iverson said.

"He has a significant head injury, it is significant brain injury," said the Rehberg family friend. "But it is survivable.

"The best thing he has going for him is that he is 27 years old and he is strong."

The fifth passenger, Barkus' wife Kathy, was doing well and holding conversations, said Jan Rehberg.

Iverson said that Rehberg's blood alcohol level was .05 according to a test at the hospital, but stressed the congressman was not driving the boat. That would still be below the legal limit of .08 for piloting a boat.

"I would begin this description of events by reiterating this was not Denny's boat, and that he was not driving the boat," Iverson said.

Iverson said he had no information on Barkus' blood alcohol level.

The Flathead County sheriff's office didn't comment on the case Saturday.

Iverson said that doctors put plates and screws into Rehberg's ankle, and took out some bone chips. He said the congressman has a big "shiner" around his eye that has fracture behind it. It is not yet known when Rehberg will be returning to work.

Iverson said that the group was out on the boat because it had been used as transportation from the resort where they were staying to the other side of the lake where they all had dinner. Iverson described it as a collection of old friends and people Barkus wanted to introduce to Rehberg.