Weather Forecast


Grand Forks woman gets 10 years in drunken-driving crash that cost victim a leg

GRAND FORKS - A Grand Forks woman was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for hitting a man while driving drunk, causing him to lose a leg.

Karen Vatnsdal, 52, was sentenced to 10 years for felony assault. She hit Michael Hart, 37, on DeMers Avenue on Oct. 17 in Grand Forks. Hart had stopped to pick up a high-chair that had fallen out of his pick-up. Hart's leg later had to be amputated below the knee. Seven years of Vatnsdal's sentence were suspended, so she will serve three years in prison, then five years of supervised probation.

Vatnsdal also was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for driving under the influence. Authorities said her blood-alcohol level was .22 percent on the night of the crash. The legal limit in North Dakota is .08. She will serve that time concurrently with the assault sentence, for a total of three years.

She also was ordered to undergo a chemical dependency evaluation.

Victim reacts

When Hart heard the news of Vatnsdal's three-year sentence, he was hurt, he said Tuesday. He is still suffering the results of losing his leg, including what he calls an ongoing "waiting game" to qualify for Social Security disability.

"It's very frustrating. I'm like a pop can being kicked down the street," Hart said. "There's too much red tape ... I mean, isn't it obvious if you've been hit by a car and you lose your leg and your blood and you have collapsed lungs, you have some pretty serious medical issues? Common sense would say that. But no, they have to go through the process, and the process takes months and months."

He said he has been paying out-of-pocket for his 6-year-old son's day care. His son was in the car during the accident, and he still gets worried when he is in a car that pulls off to the side of the road, Hart said.

Hart also is trying to cope with the pain of his amputated leg since he was taken off morphine three weeks ago.

Nonetheless, he hopes after consulting with an attorney next week, his situation will improve.

"I think things are going to turn around here. I really do," he said.

Justin Teague, 34, a passenger in Vatnsdal's car, was sentenced in April to 1½ months in prison. Teague reportedly hit and shook Hart after the crash, fought with a nurse trying to help Hart and threatened to kill a police officer, according to police affidavits.