A car accident involving two prominent DFL leaders has been thoroughly investigated, the Minnesota State Patrol chief said Friday, including details of an open container of alcohol that was found in the car.
The Redwood County attorney investigated and reviewed the case, after which state auditor Julie Blaha was cited for not giving in after slowing to a stop at the freeway. 67 and County Road 13. An article published Friday by Alpha News cited State Patrol field reports that an open can of White Claw Hard Seltzer, an alcoholic beverage, was found in the car.
“An open container of alcohol was found in the vehicle … but no one has been charged with an open container violation,” the report said.
In response to the Alpha News report, top Republicans in the state said more needs to be known about the crash.
“Elected officials are always held to a higher standard,” Deputy Senate Majority Leader Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said in a written statement.
The rollover accident involving Blaha and Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen happened Aug. 4 after they left Farmfest in Redwood County and were heading to a DFL fundraiser.
The Jeep Cherokee driven by Blaha collided with a tractor-trailer truck and landed upside down in a roadside ditch. Neither woman was seriously injured and the truck driver was unharmed.
According to State Patrol reports sent to the Star Tribune, the White Claw can was on a backpack that had belonged to Franzen and was found near the back seat. When a soldier found the can, Blaha said she didn’t know it was in the car and agreed to take a pre-breath test, according to the field report. The test showed zero alcohol.
“This accident was the subject of a thorough and objective investigation by the State Patrol, including driving, inspection of commercial vehicles and details surrounding the White Claw container,” Col. State Patrol Matt Langer in a statement. “The case was submitted for review by the local prosecutor, in line with other high-profile cases. The result of this review was a citation issued to the driver for the driving error that caused the accident.”
Donald McFarland, a spokesman for Blaha’s office, said Franzen consumed the White Claw earlier in the day and put the can in his backpack so it could be recycled later. In the car, she was drinking a can of non-alcoholic fruit juice she had pulled from a cooler, he said.
“There was no open container charge because law enforcement came to that conclusion,” McFarland said. “I think they did their due diligence.”
In a taped interview with a state trooper the day after the crash, Morgan Fire Department Deputy Chief Justin Blomeke said White Claw’s box tipped over when he retrieved the backpack. He said the box must have been quite full considering the amount spilled and that the box was “very cold”, indicating that it had been opened recently, according to the soldier’s maintenance notes.
When the soldiers arrived at the scene of the accident, it became clear to them that the two women were chosen ones. Franzen wore a name tag on her blouse stating that she was with “MN Senate District 49”.
When a soldier asked where they were going, Franzen said they were from Farmfest and headed to an “after party”. She told the policeman that she was an elected official and that the driver was the state auditor.
DFL party chairman Ken Martin, who was also at Farmfest, arrived at the scene in a DFL-marked van shortly after Franzen called him to report that she and Blaha had been in an accident, according to Brian Evans , director of communications for the DFL. Addressing the soldiers, Martin asked if the women were hurt and offered to help contact their families because he was a friend of the two, Evans said.
In an August 4 email to one of the soldiers investigating the crash, State Patrol Lt. Matthew Sorenson said the case would be referred to the county attorney for review.
“In your report, do not recommend charges at this time, only put the facts, statements and evidence that you have,” Sorenson told the soldier. “We will compile all reports and submit a package to the county attorney for them to review and drop their recommendation on charges.”
In October, soldiers investigating the crash were told by a supervisor via email that Redwood County Attorney Jenna Peterson had recommended that the State Patrol issue a citation to the “responsible driver” for the accident. ‘accident. Attempts to reach Peterson on Friday were unsuccessful.
Housley said the details left more questions than answers.
“The public deserves better from their leaders and we have many questions that have gone unanswered since August that are only now coming to light,” she said.
GOP Party Chairman David Hann also released a written statement asking for more information about the crash. “The people of Minnesota deserve to know the whole truth about this incident,” he said.
In a written statement released Friday, Franzen said she was grateful the investigation had closed the case. “There was absolutely no drunk driving on August 4, nor was alcohol a factor in the crash,” she said.