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Plea deal reached in fatal crash case

The case of a tragic, late-night vehicle accident last year where one man died and another faced felony charges was settled last week before going to trial.

Dakota Patrick Walsh, 22, of Park Rapids had faced criminal vehicular homicide and other felony charges in connection to the fatal accident last July. Three of the four felony charges in the original criminal complaint were dismissed, including criminal vehicular homicide and counts of leaving the scene and failing to notify police of the crash.

Walsh was sentenced on March 10 to 30 days in jail, with credit for 13 days time served.

Avery Jon Mikel of Nevis died in the car crash on July 23, 2016 on 190th Street, north of Park Rapids. Mikel was 19 at the time of the accident. He graduated from Nevis High School in 2015 and was a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard at the time of his death.

The Hubbard County Sheriff's Office led the investigation into the crash which revealed after Walsh and Mikel left a party in separate vehicles, Mikel was driving behind Walsh and attempted to pass when Walsh blocked him from doing so. Mikel lost control and crashed in the ditch where, according to the sheriff's office, Mikel was pinned beneath the vehicle.

Walsh left the scene and later admitted to investigators he was driving recklessly and blocked Mikel from passing when the accident occurred. Walsh admitted to investigators following the crash he turned around to check on Mikel, but "freaked out" and left the scene without calling law enforcement. Mikel's body was discovered under the vehicle hours later, about 6:30 a.m. and pronounced dead at the scene.

Hubbard County Attorney Donovan Dearstyne said they resolved the case through a plea deal. Walsh pleaded guilty to gross misdemeanor driving while impaired (DWI). Judge Paul Rasmussen accepted the plea deal and sentenced Walsh to 30 days in jail, served consecutive to a prior DWI and probation violation. He was placed on supervised probation for four years, which includes requirements that he abstain from alcohol and illicit drugs, stay out of bars and liquor stores, complete chemical dependency treatment and submit to random testing.

Dearstyne said the plea deal came about because it would be difficult to prove Walsh was under the influence when the accident occurred since he left the scene and no preliminary breath test administered.

Walsh was initially charged with two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide along with two counts of failure to stop and failure to notify law enforcement in a traffic collision involving death. Prosecutors faced a difficult time proving a collision occurred and that Walsh was under the influence at the time of the accident.

Judge Rasmussen dismissed the two counts of leaving the scene and failure to notify law enforcement for lack of probable cause based on the state law where the phrase "involved in a collision" to apply only in situations where there is contact between the defendant's vehicle and another object. The statute provides that "the driver of any motor vehicle involved in a collision shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the collision, or as close to the scene as possible, and reasonably investigate what was struck."

Given the law, it was determined the case too difficult to prove "what was struck" and based on the judge's order following a contested omnibus ruling in January.

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