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Man to appear today on charges in triple fatal near Kandiyohi, Minn.

WILLMAR -- Paul A. Wickenhauser, 21, of Cokato, will make his first court appearance this morning on criminal vehicular homicide charges for the fiery crash that killed three people Friday east of Willmar.

According to a news release from County Attorney Jenna Fischer, Wickenhauser will appear at 11 a.m. in Kandiyohi County District Court on three counts of criminal vehicular homicide for the deaths of Marta Stoffers, 68, of Atwater, her daughter-in-law, Michelle Hoffman, 40, of Eden Prairie, and Hoffman's 8-year-old daughter.

Wickenhauser also faces a felony for criminal vehicular injury for the injuries suffered by a second child in the crash, plus a misdemeanor charge of open bottle.

According to the State Patrol, the child killed was Julia Hoffman. Michael and Michelle Hoffman's 5-year-old son Jason Hoffman was injured and is hospitalized at Hennepin County Medical Center. He was listed in critical condition in a report from the Minnesota State Patrol on Saturday. A spokesman at the Minneapolis hospital said Sunday that the family wanted no more information released about the boy.

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis has reported that family and friends say Jason will be released from the hospital this week.

According to the criminal complaint against Wickenhausen, law enforcement officers attempted to extinguish the fire that burned the van and attempted to extricate the two adults from the vehicle, but were unsuccessful in their efforts. The complaint does not indicate how the two children got out of the vehicle.

At the scene of the crash, Wickenhausen 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.

The head-on crash happened around 9 p.m. Friday 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.

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. A broken bottle of Captain Morgan rum was found on the highway by a deputy. Officers also found a cooler containing a case of beer in the pickup and an open bottle of hard liquor with a portion of the contents removed behind the driver's seat of the vehicle.

Wickenhauser was treated and released from Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar after the crash. He is being held in the Kandiyohi County Jail.

Wickenhauser's attorney, Lynne Torgerson, told the Associated Press that Wickenhauser and his family are sorry for the Hoffmans' loss. She says the victims' family is in their thoughts and prayers.

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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