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Willmar man faces three charges for hitting blind man with vehicle

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WILLMAR -- Gary Lee Mattson, 56, of Willmar, has been cited with three misdemeanor charges for allegedly running his vehicle over a blind man on Nov. 16 at the intersection of First Street South and 19th Avenue.

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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 by ambulance 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, which offers people a way to communicate with friends and family about health- and injury-related situations.

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 his guide dog Nectar waited one cycle of the traffic controls at the intersection of First Street and 19th Avenue 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. He is required to appear on Feb. 24 in Kandiyohi County District Court.

According to the reports accompanying the citation, a Kandiyohi County sheriff's deputy was the first officer on the scene of the incident. The deputy was unsure if Sykora had been hit by a vehicle or had just fallen down, and shortly thereafter, the deputy called for an ambulance.

Two Willmar police officers arrived and assisted ambulance personnel. A witness told an officer 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.

The deputy's report includes that he was westbound on 19th Avenue, saw a pickup that had stopped, a dog and a man lying in the street. The driver of the pickup was waving him down.

The deputy recognized Mattson as the deputy was a former patient at Mattson's dental office in Willmar. He questioned Mattson, who said he did not know what had happened. Video from the deputy's squad car camera shows Mattson getting out of the vehicle, talking with the deputy and then getting into his vehicle and leaving.

Police officers later located Mattson and questioned him. Mattson 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.

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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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