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Duluth hypothermia victim's pleading phone message related in court

A confused and disoriented Scott Miner telephoned his brother at 3 a.m. Jan. 25 looking for a ride home, but his brother was asleep and Miner froze to death an hour later on the ground near the Copasetic Lounge on a 17-below-zero night.

A confused and disoriented Scott Miner telephoned his brother at 3 a.m. Jan. 25 looking for a ride home, but his brother was asleep and Miner froze to death an hour later on the ground near the Copasetic Lounge on a 17-below-zero night.

That information was entered into evidence Wednesday in St. Louis County District Court in the trial to determine whether the Copasetic illegally sold alcohol to Miner when he was already obviously intoxicated and that the intoxication contributed to his death.

Jurors will have to decide which expert to believe in determining what level of intoxication would lead a person to conclude that a bar patron was obviously intoxicated.

The plaintiffs' medical expert, Lowell Van Berkom, a retired director of forensic toxicology and former director of the laboratory at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified that Miner obviously would have appeared intoxicated that night because of the volume of alcohol he drank. His blood-alcohol concentration at the time of his autopsy was nearly three times the legal limit to drive.

Copasetic's defense attorney, Steven Reyelts, pointed out to jurors that Van Berkom now makes his living as a private consultant testifying at trials and reviewing cases for private parties at a fee of $300 an hour.

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The defense's medical expert, Dr. Fred Apple, medical director of the clinical laboratories at the Hennepin County Medical Center, testified that Miner would not have been observed to be obviously intoxicated when served at the lounge. Experienced, chronic drinkers can mask the effects of their intoxication, he said in testimony videotaped earlier and presented to jurors.

There has been no testimony that anyone saw Miner appearing to be intoxicated in the bar that night.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Sally Tarnowski is presiding over the trial, which is being heard by a seven-member jury.

Attorney Paul Schweiger, who is representing the plaintiffs, called Duluth police Violent Crimes Unit Investigator Laura Marquardt to testify. Marquardt testified that she listened to a recorded phone message that Scott Miner left on his brother Luke Miner's phone.

"He was lost. He was cold. He needed Luke to come and get him. He was freezing," Marquardt said in relating the words she remembered from the call. The actual telephone recording wasn't saved by Luke Miner and couldn't be played for jurors.

"The voice was high-pitched. He clearly sounded scared to me," Marquardt told jurors. "His words were slurred. It gave the impression that he wasn't quite right."

However, Marquardt said she couldn't make the distinction between whether Miner was intoxicated or suffering the effects of hypothermia because the symptoms are similar.

Miner was a member of the extended family that owns Super One Foods. His mother, Kim; sister Patricia and brother Luke filed the Dramshop Act civil lawsuit in June against J&J Miller Inc., doing business as Copasetic Lounge. Each of the plaintiffs is seeking $50,000 in damages for funeral and burial expenses, mental anguish and for being deprived of their loved one's presence.

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Kim Miner testified Wednesday that her son took 32 to 42 medically prescribed pills a day. Scott Miner, 22, was diagnosed with a kidney ailment at 15, had both kidneys removed and received a kidney transplant with the organ coming from his father.

Reyelts ran through a litany of drugs that Miner was taking and pointed out that most of them instructed or cautioned that the drugs shouldn't be used with alcohol, or that alcohol could increase the effects of the drugs.

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