Weather Forecast


Battle lines drawn in case of 93-year-old driver

Faith Mitzel of Oberon talks about the fatal accident she was involved in on May 19 along a stretch of Highway 57 near Fort Totten. She says witnesses can testify that she was not at fault. Sarah Kolberg/ Forum Communications

The Ramsey County state's attorney says he plans to ask for the maximum sentence -- 60 days in jail -- for a 93-year-old woman facing a pair of misdemeanor driving charges.

"We have a history of dangerous driving," Lonnie Olson said of Faith Mitzel's case. "In the interest of public safety, we'd be asking for jail time."

Mitzel's license was suspended after she was involved in a fatal crash on May 19. Authorities said her car hit two motorcycles on a highway in Benson County, N.D., killing a woman and seriously injuring two men. After an investigation, Mitzel of Oberon, N.D., was fined $20 for driving on the wrong side of the road.

On Aug. 3, a Ramsey County deputy cited her for driving with a suspended license and driving without insurance. It's on those charges that Olson wants the maximum sentence.

Mitzel, who appeared in court Monday, is set for a pretrial hearing Sept. 22 and a jury trial Oct. 6.

Mitzel's attorney, Monty Stensland of Grand Forks, said he spoke briefly with Olson outside the courtroom Monday. "He indicated that he wanted to have her in the LEC (the county jail), and I told him no way," Stensland said.

Stensland said people charged with driving under suspension or without insurance are usually fined or given suspended jail time. He said seeking jail time for Mitzel in this case would be an attempt to punish her for the May 19 crash, in which, he pointed out, she was not criminally charged.

"I guess if the state wants to put a 93-year-old woman in jail, I'd expect to have a jury trail before it gets to that," he said.

Stensland, who's originally from Oberon, said he's known Mitzel for many years and is representing her pro bono. "I'd tried to sit back and not be a part of this, but she needed somebody that can help her," he said.

The last time Mitzel was in court, she told state District Judge Donovan Foughty that she's not guilty and assured him she has someone to drive her around. On Monday, Stensland's mother, who lives two miles from Mitzel, drove Mitzel to court, Stensland said.