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Vehicular homicide: Charges going forward in fatal accident

MONTEVIDEO — Felony char-ges of criminal vehicular homicide or operation will go forward against a 70-year-old defendant in a fatal motor vehicle accident that occurred Dec. 16, 2011, in Chippewa County.

District Judge Thomas Van Hon ruled this week that probable cause exists for the charges against Arnold Jaenisch, 70, of rural Clara City. The judge denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges.

Jaenisch is charged with three felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide, as well as misdemeanor charges for open bottle and a stop sign violation.

He is accused of driving through a double-posted stop sign at the intersection of Chippewa County Road 13 and Minnesota Highway 29 and fatally striking Kelly Marie Berghorst, 39, of Montevideo, originally of New London.

Jaenisch allegedly had a 0.11 percent blood alcohol level — above the legal limit of 0.08 — when his blood was drawn at the Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital following the accident, according to the criminal charges.

During a hearing Jan. 3 in District Court, the defense attorney for Jaenisch had challenged whether the blood sample was drawn within a two-hour time frame of the accident, as required by the statute for a criminal vehicular homicide charge.

The emergency room record shows that the blood was drawn at 9:57 p.m. The exact time of the accident is not known, but the first witness to the scene called 911 at 8:21 p.m.  

Berghorst had left her place of employment in Montevideo after her shift ended at 8 p.m. It would have taken her at least 10 minutes to drive from her work place to the intersection where the accident occurred, according to information submitted to the court by the state.

In denying the motion to dismiss the charges, Judge Van Hon stated that the defense had not provided “exonerating evidence” showing that the blood was drawn more than two hours after the time of driving.

Court records show that the defendant has two prior impaired driving convictions in 2007 and 2008.

State Patrol troopers reported that there was a smell of alcohol in his vehicle at the Chippewa County accident, along with a broken wine bottle and beer.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335