WILLMAR -- Gary Lee Mattson, 56, of Willmar, made his first court appearance Wednesday on three misdemeanor charges for allegedly running his vehicle over a blind man Nov. 16 at the intersection of First Street South and 19th Avenue.
Mattson entered a not guilty plea, by signing a statement of rights form in traffic court, in Kandiyohi County District Court. His next court date was not set at the hearing.
The incident left Thomas Dennis Sykora, 58, of Willmar, with numerous broken ribs, plus a broken scapula, or shoulder blade, and a broken ankle that required surgery to repair.
Sykora was taken to Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar and was later airlifted to St. Cloud Hospital. He spent four weeks in that hospital and is now at home and recovering, according to his page at the caringbridge.org Web site.
A week after the incident, Sykora told the Tribune from his hospital bed that he lost his sight about 20 years ago to retinitis pigmentosa.
On Nov. 16, he said he and his guide dog Nectar waited one cycle of the traffic controls at the intersection before attempting to cross 19th Avenue going south on the west side of First Street. Prior to leaving his home, Sykora had donned a bright yellow jacket, with strips of reflective tape sewn onto the fabric, similar to those worn by road construction workers, and took his white cane in hand.
The charges against Mattson include citations for failure to yield right of way to a blind pedestrian, failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and hit and run from a personal-injury accident.
According to the reports accompanying the citation, a Kandiyohi County sheriff's deputy, who recognized Mattson as the driver of a pickup stopped at the intersection, was first on the scene. A witness said he had seen a person he recognized as the blind man who walks around the neighborhood with a guide dog and he had observed a Ford pickup turn and strike the blind man. The witness said he saw the pickup actually bouncing up and down when it ran over the blind man, then stop on First Street, where the driver got out and talked to the deputy and then drove away.
Police officers later located Mattson, who denied running over the man or striking anything with his vehicle. About three hours after the incident, he submitted to a breath test for alcohol, which was negative, and a blood test, which was also negative.