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Defense motions denied in fatal crash outside Willmar, Minn.

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WILLMAR — District Judge Donald M. Spilseth has denied motions to dismiss the charges against the 22-year-old Cokato man facing 15 felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide or operation for the triple fatal motor vehicle crash last summer east of Willmar.

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In an order dated March 29, Spilseth also denied defense motions to suppress statements Paul Anthony Wickenhauser made to law enforcement officials after the Aug. 17 crash that killed Marta Stoffers, 68, of Atwater, her daughter-in-law, Michelle Hoffman, 40, of Eden Prairie, and Hoffman’s 8-year-old daughter Julia.

The felony charges, plus a misdemeanor charge for open bottle, were filed after the three family members were killed in the head-on crash near where U.S. Highway 12 intersects with Kandiyohi County Road 127. Hoffman’s 5-year-old son, Jason, was injured.

The order also schedules a four-day trial to begin July 30 in Kandiyohi County District Court. A pretrial hearing has also been scheduled for May 22.

Spilseth also denied a motion challenging the legality of Wickenhauser’s detention by State Patrol Trooper Dennis Koenen in his squad car, finding that a brief detention was warranted because Wickenhauser was involved in a serious accident. In finding that there is sufficient probable cause for the criminal vehicular charges against Wickenhauser, Spilseth found that Wicken- hauser voluntarily admitted that he crossed the center line of traffic with his pickup truck, admitted to officers that he had consumed alcohol and the judge also found that Koenen and Willmar Police Officer James Venenga both smelled alcohol on Wickenhauser and noted that the young man had bloodshot eyes.

Alcohol impairment is the basis for criminal vehicular charges.

Wickenhauser’s attorney, Lynne Torgerson, had argued during a March 12 hearing that her client had passed the only field sobriety test he was given, a preliminary breath test that showed a 0.07 percent blood-alcohol content. The legal limit for driving while impaired charges is 0.08 percent.

A later blood test showed 0.09 percent.

Torgerson had argued that blood test never should have occurred because there was no probable cause for further testing, but Spilseth’s order detailed his findings that there was probable cause.

At the March 12 hearing, Torgerson said she had the results of three blood tests performed on Wickenhauser — a blood serum test, a test by an independent testing agency and the preliminary breath test reading — that show her client was not legally intoxicated.

Assistant County Attorney John Kallestad argued at the same hearing that there is case law, appeals court and Supreme Court decisions that show that the possibility of impairment, the presence of injuries or the possibility of negligence have been found to provide sufficient probable cause — or the legal foundation — for blood-alcohol content testing to be conducted in criminal vehicular cases.

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Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

(320) 214-4373
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