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Four more felony charges filed in August triple fatal crash; hearing delayed for now

WILLMAR -- Four more felony charges of criminal vehicular operation were filed Thursday against Paul Anthony Wickenhauser, the 21-year-old Cokato man already facing multiple criminal counts for the triple fatal motor vehicle crash Aug. 17 east of Willmar.

The additional charges were added to eight felony counts and one misdemeanor charge already filed against Wickenhauser in Kandiyohi County District Court. Judge Donald M. Spilseth al-so granted a requested delay from Wickenhau-ser's attorney, and the omnibus hearing will not happen as previously scheduled on Nov. 19. No new hearing date was set.

According to County Attorney Jenna Fischer, the new charges are for Wickenhauser driving while under the influence of alcohol, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.09. The legal limit is 0.08. The prior charges were for having a higher than 0.08 blood alcohol content within two hours of driving.

Wickenhauser was originally charged with four counts of criminal vehicular homicide and injury, plus the misdemeanor for open bottle, for causing the crash near where Highway 12 intersects with County Road 127. Marta Stoffers, 68, of Atwater, her daughter-in-law, Michelle Hoffman, 40, of Eden Prairie, and Hoffman's 8-year-old daughter Julia were all killed in the crash. Hoffman's 5-year-old son, Jason, was injured.

Four additional felony charges were added on Aug. 23, after the county attorney's office received the results of blood tests by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension showing that Wickenhauser was over the legal alcohol limit for driving, with the 0.09 blood alcohol content reading.

The head-on crash occurred around 9 p.m. Aug. 17 along U.S. Highway 12 near Kandiyohi.

According to the State Patrol, Stoffers was driving east in a 2001 Chrysler Town and Country van. A 2004 Chevy Silverado pickup driven by Wickenhauser was traveling west and hit the van head-on. The force of the impact pushed the van into the north ditch of the highway, where it caught fire, according to the State Patrol.

Law enforcement officers found a broken bottle of Captain Morgan rum on the roadway, a cooler containing a case of beer in the bed of the pickup and an open bottle of hard liquor with a portion of the contents removed behind the driver's seat of the vehicle.

According to the complaint, Wickenhauser told the trooper that his pickup went across the centerline a foot or so and that the driver of the other vehicle must have thought he was going to continue going into the wrong lane, so they went into his lane.

At the scene of the crash, Wickenhauser admitted to drinking beer at his home in Cokato and a preliminary breath test showed a blood alcohol content of 0.07. A blood sample was taken at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar and sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for analysis.

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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