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Cosmos defendant allowed contact with alleged victim

Damon Wiederhoft

OLIVIA — A man accused of grabbing the steering wheel of a car driven by his girlfriend and causing an accident that severely injured her will be able to maintain his relationship with her while his case proceeds.

In an order issued Friday, the District Court in Renville County allowed Damon Dwight Wiederhoft, 29, of Cosmos, to be released on his personal recognizance with conditions. The conditions require he have no contact with the five children who were also present in the vehicle at the time of the accident, and he is barred from the residence where they live with their mother unless a visit is approved by Renville County Health and Human Services.

He was arraigned in November on felony first-degree assault, two felony counts of criminal vehicular operation — great bodily harm, and five gross misdemeanor charges of child endangerment.

The order allowing his release follows testimony Jan. 3 when the alleged victim said she believed the defendant grabbed the steering wheel because she was on the wrong side of the road and heading to the ditch.

The complaint alleges that Wiederhoft was a front-seat passenger and verbally arguing with his girlfriend as she drove a vehicle with the five children on July 30 in Renville County. He allegedly grabbed the steering wheel, causing an accident in which both he and the driver were ejected from the vehicle and suffered severe trauma. She was airlifted to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and was in a coma and on a ventilator for several days. She suffered a left orbital blowout fracture to the eye socket, a shattered spleen, collapsed lung, six spinal fractures and blockage of her left renal artery.

Investigators determined the vehicle was traveling at 62 miles per hour approximately five seconds before the airbags deployed.

Wiederhoft had a blood alcohol content of 0.143 when collected four hours after the accident, according to the complaint. The threshold for driving while impaired is 0.08.

Tests showed no alcohol in the woman's blood, according to the complaint.

The children had been secured in safety restraints and suffered only minor injuries.

Tom Cherveny

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

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