A Lewiston jury has cleared Bonner County and its former sheriff Don Nelson of negligence in releasing an alcoholic jail inmate who later hit a Grangeville couple head-on.

The Friday verdict came after 13 days of testimony and three hours of deliberation.Bonner County and Nelson were being sued in 2nd District Court at Lewiston by Floyd and Betty Litchfield. The Litchfields were seriously injured March 3 south of Lapwai when their vehicle collided with one driven by Larry Dawson.

Dawson had been held in the Bonner County Jail at Sandpoint after being convicted of two counts of driving while intoxicated, the court was told.

Dawson had been released from jail that day to go to the Alcohol Treatment Unit at Orofino for in-patient treatment. It is not known why he was near Lapwai. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.34 after the accident, more than three times the legal limit of 0.10.

The couple claimed the county jail improperly let an inmate out. They sought close to half a million dollars for economic losses and medical costs, as well as unspecified damages.

Boise lawyer James Davis, defending Bonner County, insisted Friday the decision to release Dawson from jail was made by Bonner County Magistrate Debra Heise, who sentenced him.

But Lewiston attorney Darrell Aherin for the Litchfields hammered the point that Dawson was in custody when he was released, and his driving privilege was suspended at the time of the accident.