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Driver in ATV crash has spotty driving record

A memorial has materialized at the scene of a fatal ATV crash last weekend in the Paul Bunyan State Forest. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The driver of an all terrain vehicle that went out of control last weekend, crashed into a tree and killed his female passenger, had a dismal driving record by anyone's measure.

Chad Tabaka, 30, of Walker, has racked up 20 traffic and liquor-related infractions in three counties since 1997.

There are the four DWIs, one criminal vehicular operation, two minor consumption violations, four speeding tickets, two driving without insurance, two expired registration or license plate charges and one count of driving with an expired driver's license, among other charges.

Hubbard County authorities say Tabaka was northbound on East Steamboat Forest Road May 1 when he lost control of the 2004 Honda TRX650R ATV he was driving, veered off the road and collided with a tree around 6 p.m.

Passenger Jessica Lynn Christopherson, 31, was pronounced dead at the scene. Alcohol tests are pending to determine if it was a factor in the crash.

Wreaths of flowers and a decorated white cross now marks the spot, and the gouged tree stands testament to the scene of the accident. It is in an extremely remote spot in the Paul Bunyan State Forest.

An outpouring of sympathy flooded the Internet as friends and acquaintances of Christopherson remembered a vibrant and funny woman who was a wonderful mother to her three daughters. Christopherson owned her own cleaning business and bred dogs as a hobby.

Tabaka was taken to North Country Region Hospital in Bemidji with several possible fractures.

Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer said he resisted giving a blood or urine sample.

"He was fighting us," Homer acknowledged. "I know there were complications at the hospital to start with as far as him submitting to law enforcement.

"I need to talk to the trooper who was at the hospital," Homer added. "What may have to happen here is we subpoena the hospital records. I believe he was fighting offering a test, from what I saw initially in the report. I don't believe he eventually submitted anything so we have to go by hospital records. That's the disadvantage. It might take a little bit."

HIPAA laws have complicated obtaining medical records through subpoenas, said Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provides federal protections for personal health information held by covered entities such as hospitals and clinics. It gives patients an array of rights with respect to private health information. Dearstyne said he often winds up in court fighting to get vital medical records necessary for criminal prosecutions.

Homer said Tabaka had a valid driver's license at the time of the accident, but had restrictions on it that last through 2013.

The restrictions did not prevent him from operating an ATV, however.

The accident occurred in somewhat muddy conditions on a curve about three miles south of Benedict. The ATV plunged off the roadway, down a short, steep incline and struck the tree.

Christopherson's death is Hubbard County's first ATV fatality in 2010, the fifth this year in Minnesota.

Both Tabaka and Christopherson were wearing helmets.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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