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Appeals court upholds prison sentence against passenger convicted of causing Renville County accident by grabbing steering wheel

Damon Wiederhoft appealed his 33-month prison sentence for criminal vehicular operation for grabbing the steering wheel of his girlfriend's car and causing it to leave the roadway at over 60 miles an hour. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence issued last December in Renville County District Court.

Damon Wiederhoft.jpg
Damon Wiederhoft

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed the 33-month prison sentence for a man who had been convicted of criminal vehicular operation for grabbing the steering wheel of his girlfriend’s car and causing it to leave the roadway at over 60 miles an hour.

Damon Dwight Wiederhoft, 31, of Hector, formerly of Cosmos, was sentenced last December in Renville County District Court for the July 30, 2017, crash southeast of Cosmos that severely injured his girlfriend. He had a blood-alcohol content of 0.143 percent, over the drunken driving limit of 0.08. He was accused of throwing items at the driver and out of the car as they argued.

One of the children in the vehicle told police that Wiederhoft had grabbed the steering wheel and yanked it, which caused the vehicle to crash in a cornfield, according to the appeals court ruling.

The driver and Wiederhoft were thrown from the vehicle and she suffered an orbital blowout fracture to her eye socket, a shattered spleen, collapsed lung, six spinal fractures and a blockage of her left renal artery. The five children in the vehicle were in safety restraints and were not seriously injured.

The 33-month prison sentence Wiederhoft received was at the bottom of the presumptive sentencing range in state guidelines.

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In his appeal, he argued that he should have received a lesser sentence because he was “particularly amenable to probation and only played a minor, passive role in the offense.”

The court stated that Wiederhoft was already on probation when the crash occurred, and was charged with driving while impaired in Stearns County a few months after the crash. “Upon this basis, the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Wiederhoft was not particularly amenable to treatment in a probationary setting,” stated the appeals court ruling.

The court also rejected his claim that “grabbing the steering wheel and causing the car to careen into a cornfield” could be considered a “minor or passive act. Instead, it is the act that constituted criminal vehicular operation,” the court stated.

Wiederhoft is currently incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Rush City.

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