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Park Rapids man found guilty in fatal 2011 crash

Dean James Roehler

A Hubbard County jury took 2½ hours to find a Park Rapids man guilty of all 11 charges in connection with a head-on collision a year ago that took the life of a Backus woman.

Families of both drivers wept at the verdict. Trial began Tuesday morning and the case went to the jury late Wednesday afternoon.

Dean James Roehler, 23, was found guilty of nine counts of Criminal Vehicular Homicide & Injury in the July 14, 2011, death of Patricia Borman and injuries to her two passengers on Highway 34 east of Park Rapids.

Borman, 52, died at the scene of the crash near Evening Drive when Roehler's westbound car veered across the centerline and struck her minivan head-on.

Roehler, who was critically injured, testified that he was returning from Moondance Jam, but that he had only consumed three beers that day and was sleep deprived from being up all night on the 13th. He admitted he remembered nothing of the trip to Park Rapids after he turned onto the highway east of Akeley.

Borman's daughter-in-law Alicia sobbed throughout her testimony as she recalled seeing a vehicle coming directly toward the van she was riding in. She and her infant son received minor injuries. She said she still has back problems.

"I'm traumatized," she said of memories of the crash. Numerous motorists stopped to assist at the scene.

"My son was crying," Alicia Borman testified. "I've never been so happy to hear my son cry. He was alive."

Patricia Borman's husband and numerous family members attended the trial. Many wept as scenes of the crash were displayed on a big screen TV in the courtroom.

Pinning down Roehler's blood-alcohol level was difficult when the first test after the crash indicated he was under the legal limit to drive. Several emergency personnel testified that his blood sample appeared diluted by fluids from an IV line that was near the injection site.

A second test yielded a similar reading several hours after the crash, that he was under the .08 percent legal limit.

A state toxicologist performed a "retrograde extrapolation" of Roehler's blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash, indicating that at the rate the human body burns off alcohol per hour, he was legally intoxicated at the time he crossed the centerline.

The most dramatic moment of the case came toward the end of the trial. Roehler, under direct examination and again in cross-examination, testified twice he stopped drinking after the accident.

In rebuttal, a Park Rapids police officer and Hubbard County deputy took the stand to testify Roehler had been drinking Aug. 1 on Eagle Lake. One had witnessed it, the other smelled it on his breath.

Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne, who prosecuted the case with assistant Jonathan Frieden, said he was so exhausted he couldn't really comment except to thank the jury for its service. His office issued a press release Thursday.

Roehler was immediately taken into custody and will remain incarcerated until he is sentenced Sept. 4.

The most serious charge he faces carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine upon conviction. But because Roehler has relatively minor convictions in his past, he will serve considerably less than the 10 years under Minnesota's Sentencing Guidelines.

Sarah Smith

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

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