Charges filed in County 34 washout accident

Published 11:26 am Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The driver of a 2003 Chevy Avalanche that crashed into a washout on Freeborn County Road 34 on the evening of June 29 faces 15 felony counts stemming from that incident in which two passengers died. The charges, filed Tuesday in Freeborn County District Court, include criminal vehicular homicide.

Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson said Charles Kenneth Dennison, 20, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 when measured via blood sample two hours later and said everyone in the sport-utility truck was under the influence of alcohol — primarily beer.

Dennison, commonly called Kenny, was the driver, the court papers state. He resides at 914 Lincoln Ave. in Albert Lea, the papers say. They say Nathan Buchli was the front-seat passenger and the four people in the back seat were Langdon Bachtle, Kelly Jo Abrego, Kelly John Pechumer and Brock Dempewolf. Abrego and Pechumer died as a result of injuries sustained in the wreck. The others suffered injuries. Abrego is Dennison’s aunt and her three children are his cousins.

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A drainage ditch had washed out County 34 in Oakland Township in eastern Freeborn County on the night of June 12 during a thunderstorm that brought floods. That prompted the Freeborn County Highway Department to erect several barriers across the roadway on each side of the washout that said “Road Closed.” Each row of barriers were linked together with orange netting. Many people in Albert Lea have wondered why Dennison allegedly went around the road block.

Craig said the group on June 29 had driven a direct route from Myrtle to Lyle for a town festival and were drinking at the liquor store, which is also a saloon. They left after a minor skirmish. Craig said Dennison took a roundabout way of returning to Myrtle and it remains unknown why. They were heading southbound on County 34 and drove around the right side of the road block. Whether he had to leave the roadway and go on the shoulder or ditch to go around remains unknown but Craig said he definitely did not stop to move the barriers. He said Dennison didn’t seem to slow down when passing the barriers, which was 778 feet north of the washout.

The report says when Freeborn County sheriff’s deputies interviewed Dempewolf and Buchli, they recalled seeing the barricade.

“They recall the barriers and then bang,” Craig said.

Bachtle did not remember the barriers but also told investigators he doesn’t recall the collision either. He only remembers waking up in the hospital.

The truck left the roadway into the washout, hitting the embankment on the south side. It came to a rest facing south, with its back resting on an exposed culvert and its front on a part of the road left by the washout. The Minnesota State Patrol analyzed a sensing module — sort of a “black box” for cars — and determined the Chevy Avalanche was going faster than 40 mph immediately prior to crashing.

“The vehicle appeared to have been traveling at this speed prior to the collision, which was characterized to be an almost perfect head-on crash,” the report states.

Deputies Darin Hable and Tim Bennett responded. They noticed orange netting had been moved and was on the ground, making it possible for an automobile to drive on the shoulder to go around the barriers. They discovered two automobiles in the washout. The other was a two-door pickup driven by a first responder attempting to get to the scene of the crash from the other direction.

There are mainly five charges, but each are filed in three ways — a typical way of prosecuting cases relating to drunken driving because of varying methods to prove drunkenness, Nelson said. Vehicular homicide accounts for six of the 15 charges, three counts for Abrego and three for Pechumer. One conviction of vehicular homicide carries a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and a $20,000 fine. The other nine charges are criminal vehicular operation causing substantial bodily harm, three counts for each of the three injured passengers. A single conviction of criminal vehicular operation carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

If he is convicted on three counts of criminal vehicular operation and two counts of criminal vehicular homicide, he potentially could face 29 years in prison and a $70,000 fine.