Fargo driver allegedly said, 'Watch this' before crash that killed passenger
Seconds before skidding around a corner in north Fargo and running into a tree last fall - a crash that killed a 17-year-old passenger - the 16-year-old driver said, "Watch this," another passenger later told police.
Tests following the crash found that the driver, Erin Noehre, had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.06 and was also on anti-depressants, police claim.
The new details in the Oct. 16 crash were revealed Friday in Cass County District Court, where Noehre is charged in juvenile court with manslaughter.
While criminal cases in juvenile court usually are private, prosecutors want to move the manslaughter case to adult court. To try the case in adult court, the state had to present evidence in a public hearing.
No decision on whether the case will be tried in adult court will be made until after March 18, which Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Tracy Peters said was the deadline for both sides to submit written briefs to Judicial Referee Susan Solheim.
The crash shortly after 1 a.m. Oct. 16 at 11th Avenue North and Seventh Street killed Tyler Tweten, a 17-year-old junior at Fargo South High School.
Tweten, who was riding in the backseat, was one of four teenagers in the car driven by Noehre, and the only one wearing his seat belt, though he may have tucked the chest strap of the seat belt under his arm, Detective Paul Holte said Friday in testimony.
An autopsy found Tweten, who had no alcohol in his system, died of blunt chest and abdominal injuries caused by the crash, Holte said.
The other passenger in the backseat, Dakota Moran, told Holte he heard Noehre say, "Watch this," or something like it, just before she tried to turn left onto 11th Avenue North while heading north on Seventh Street, the police detective said Friday.
Robert Ramirez, the passenger in the front seat, did not say he'd heard Noehre say that, Holte said.
Officer Brad Zieska also testified that Noehre, who was pinned inside the car and had to be extricated by firefighters, didn't smell of alcohol and didn't seem to be confused or slurring.
Officer Michael Lovejoy, trained in accident reconstruction, said later investigation estimated Noehre took the turn at 42 mph, 17 mph over the 25 mph speed limit. The skid marks through the intersection, which has yield signs on Seventh Street, showed no attempt to stop or brake, Lovejoy said.
Though the .06 BAC that Noehre allegedly registered in blood and urine testing after the crash is less than the 0.08 marking the drunken driving point for adult drivers, drivers under the age of 21 in North Dakota are prohibited from having any alcohol level.
Holte said he consulted with a pharmacist in Fargo who said anti-depression medicine includes warnings about not mixing the pills with alcohol, as they can compound side effects such as slowed reaction times and drowsiness.
Police testimony Friday alleged Noehre was giving the three boys rides home from a bonfire at the home of her father, roughly three blocks away from the scene of the crash. Holte said he had no evidence Noehre's father supplied the alcohol or was aware the teenagers were drinking in his yard.
Manslaughter is a Class B felony with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, requiring the state to show a death was recklessly caused by the defendant.
To prevent the case from being transferred to adult court, the burden is on the defense to show Noehre is amenable to treatment or rehabilitation. To that aim, Noehre's lawyer called a psychologist to testify.
Psychologist Sara Quam said the 16-year-old has a three-year history of substance abuse issues, depression and anxiety, but Quam said she was a good candidate for treatment.
Fargo defense attorney Cash Aaland, who has no connection to the case, said generally judges are reluctant to transfer cases to adult court. The question of whether a juvenile is amenable to treatment is often "a battle of the experts," Aaland said.
Prosecutors didn't call a witness to contest Quam's testimony.
The courtroom was nearly full with more than 50 observers in the audience, many of them friends and relatives of Tweten. One of them was Julienne Brimm, a junior at Fargo South who had known Tweten since the second grade.
Brimm said that like many of Tweten's supporters, she is hoping the case will get transferred to adult court because there would be stiffer penalties available.
"I personally feel she should get the worst punishment possible," Brimm said.