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Willmar man enters plea for hitting blind man at busy intersection

Gary Mattson of Willmar walks from the Kandiyohi County Courthouse in downtown Willmar after pleading guilty last month to a misdemeanor charge stemming from him striking a blind man with his vehicle. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Gary Lee Mattson, 56, of Willmar, pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge of failure to stop for a blind person for a Nov. 16 incident in which a blind man was run over at the intersection of First Street South and 19th Avenue in Willmar.

As part of a plea agreement reached in Kandiyohi County District Court, two additional misdemeanor charges for failure to stop for a traffic signal and failure to give information after a traffic accident will be dismissed.

Mattson will be sentenced June 23.

Both Mattson and his attorney Daniel Eller declined to comment after the plea hearing before Judge Michael J. Thompson. The case was scheduled for a jury trial to begin Thursday.

The incident left Thomas Sykora, 58, of Willmar, with numerous broken ribs, plus a broken scapula -- or shoulder blade -- and a broken ankle that required surgery.

Sykora was taken to Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar and was later airlifted to St. Cloud Hospital. He was hospitalized for a month, according to his Web page.

Sykora has filed a civil lawsuit against Mattson. A hearing morning in that case is scheduled today before Judge Thompson. According to the suit, Sykora is seeking a judgment in excess of $50,000 and claims he suffered severe and life-threatening injuries due to Mattson's negligence.

Sykora was interviewed by the Tribune a week after the incident and said he and his guide dog Nectar waited one cycle of the traffic controls at the intersection before attempting to cross 19th Avenue on the west side of First Street. Sykora, who lost his sight about 20 years ago to retinitis pigmentosa, said he was wearing a bright yellow jacket with strips of reflective tape sewn onto the fabric and his walking cane with him.

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 saw the pickup bounce up and down when it ran over Sykora, then stop on First Street. The witness said the driver got out of the vehicle, talked to the deputy and then drove away.

Police officers later located Mattson, who denied running over Sykora or striking anything with his vehicle. Some three hours after the incident, Mattson submitted a breath test and blood test. Both were negative for alcohol.

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. 

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