A Hubbard County jury deliberated for less than hour before acquitting Jessiah Hoeg of Maple Grove, 33, of failure to stop and render aid following an Aug. 25, 2016 boat collision on Fishhook Lake.
"As far as we know, we're not aware that this crime has ever been charged in the history of the state of Minnesota," Marsh Halberg, Hoeg's defense attorney, said in a phone interview. "It's a very unique charge."
Most crimes are listed in a jury instruction guide (JIG), but there wasn't a JIG for this case.
"We had to make up our own jury instruction. The prosecutor and I and the judge had to create our own set of rules to give to the jury for how to determine if our guy was guilty or not guilty," Halberg said. "We had to agree to what those elements were."
The jury instruction guide stated that, under Minnesota law, a watercraft operator involved in an accident must immediately stop and render assistance as "may be practical and necessary, without putting himself, the passengers or the watercraft in serious danger." Failure to render aid is a misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.
According to the complaint, at approximately 1:45 p.m. on Aug. 25, 2016, law enforcement received a report of a boating accident and were advised there were people in the water. Two boats collided approximately 150 yards from shore. A 16-foot fishing boat, operated by John Patrick Sargent, 78, capsized, throwing the three occupants into the water. None of the parties were wearing life jackets. Sargent and his passengers, Thomas and Gloria Dalby of Brainerd, both 57, were ejected from the boat.
The other boat, a 17-footer operated by Hoeg, was partially on top of Sargent's boat.
People from nearby Loon's Nest Resort rescued the Dalbys and brought them to shore.
An effort to locate Sargent was launched immediately following the accident, with law enforcement and first responders searching the lake from the public access across to Deane Point.
Thomas Dalby was airlifted from the public access to North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale following the accident. He was treated for broken ribs. Gloria Dalby was treated and released from CHI St. Joseph's Health in Park Rapids.
Sargent was not located, and later, rescue operations retrieved his body from the water.
Hoeg and his father, Rick Hoeg, sustained minor injuries.
Halberg said attorneys did not spend time reconstructing the accident to determine who hit who.
"It was irrelevant to the case. The case is, after the accident, regardless of fault, did my guy do the right thing or not?" he said.
Gloria Dalby told investigators that they were fishing on Fishhook Lake when it started raining. She said they were headed for the boat landing when another boat collided with their boat.
Halberg said there was one fundamental difference in testimony. Hoeg testified that Thomas Dalby was pinned between the boats.
"Mr. Dalby was being crushed by the two boats rocking back and forth. There were real, strong winds, like 25 mph gusts. Everybody agrees the weather was nasty," Halberg said.
Hoeg said he unwrapped metal that was tying the boats together. Once the boats were untangled,
He stated that within a couple seconds, the boats were 40 feet apart due to strong winds and Sargent's boat capsized.
Thomas Dalby testified that he physically picked up the bow of Hoeg's boat to free the boats.
Hoeg headed to shore and yelled for someone to call 911. The 911 call was played for the jury.
The charges were filed by former Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne in 2016. County Attorney Jonathan Frieden represented the state of Minnesota during the jury trial last week.
"We believed it was an appropriate charge and the jury should convict, but unfortunately, they did not. I respect that decision," Frieden said in a phone interview. "My heart goes out to the family. They lost a really, really great guy. I felt we put on a really good case. It was a tough case, and unfortunately, the jury found him not guilty."
"Although the state was not successful in this case, Mr. Frieden did an excellent job in prosecuting the charge. He's an excellent lawyer. He's a great representative for Hubbard County," said Halberg and co-counsel Andrew Wilson. "But factually, it was a very strong case for the defense. In addition, Judge Rasmussen was very fair to both sides."