A jury of nine women and five men was seated Friday morning in Crow Wing County District Court for the trial of Sherman Bernard Frederick, the 68-year-old man accused of driving the van that struck and killed 3-year-old Jack Larson on May 9, 2009, in Merrifield.
Frederick is charged with criminal vehicular homicide in connection with Jack’s death. In his opening statements, Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan said there weren’t a lot of facts disputed between himself and Frederick’s attorney, Brent Schafer of Eagan.
The differences between the attorneys, according to their opening statements, was whether Frederick’s actions in passing a line of stopped vehicles on Crow Wing County Road 3 before hitting and killing Jack on the roadway shoulder constituted a crime or an accident.
“We anticipate the evidence will show there was nothing accidental about this,” Ryan said.
Schafer, in his opening statement, offered the jury a definition of the word “accident” as an unexpected or undesirable event, , especially one resulting in damage or harm.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this case is about an accident,” Schafer said. “This isn’t a criminal case. This is a case of a horrible, tragic accident that took the life of a child.”
Law enforcement officers allege Frederick struck Jack with his van while passing on the shoulder several vehicles that had stopped on Crow Wing County Road 3 to let Jack, his siblings and cousins, cross the roadway.
Ryan noted Frederick, in statements to law enforcement, offered numerous reasons of what might have happened — he fell asleep, he might have had a diabetic reaction, that he lost it and when he looked up he saw two kids on the road and didn’t know what happened after that.
Ryan said Frederick, after moving into a passing lane up the road, continued straight after it ended with minimal steering and no attempt at braking.
There was no evidence of alcohol, controlled substances, equipment or mechanical malfunction that contributed to the crash, Ryan said. The was no evidence, he continued, that Frederick didn’t intend to pass the vehicles stopped in the southbound lane.
Schafer noted only Frederick could inform the jury exactly what led to the crash. Frederick intends to testify during the trial.
“I’d probably have to tie him to that chair to prevent him from telling you what happened that day,” Schafer said.
Schafer said Frederick woke up at his Crosslake home that morning felling good and refreshed. He was traveling through Merrifield on his way to a wedding in Montevideo.
As Frederick entered Merrifield, he remembered seeing vehicles stopped, Schafer said. The next thing Frederick knew, he saw a child to his right, served to avoid him but couldn’t stop to avoid another child on the left.
“Jack basically ran into the front quarter panel of Mr. Frederick’s van,” Schafer said.
These facts were not in dispute, according to Ryan and Schafer:
On the morning of May 9, 2009, Jack Larson, his brother James, his sister Kayla and cousins Tessa and Isabelle Larson were at the Lions Park in Merrifield, near where their grandparents live on Sorenson Lake.
The children, plus a friend of Tessa’s, decided to take a walk on the Paul Bunyan Trail across Crow Wing County Road 3. The family’s dogs that had followed the kids from their grandparents house ran in front of the kids and onto the county road, stopping traffic about three to five cars in each direction. The motorists waved the kids across, too.
The older kids — Kayla, Tessa, Isabelle and the friend — had made it across the road but James and Jack hesitated. Kayla went back to the shoulder to beckon James and Jack, who were holding hands while crossing the road.
It was at that point that Kayla, 15, testified she saw a van coming. She said she didn’t take her eyes off the van, and had to step back so that it didn’t hit her.
Tessa, 16, also testified of the events that led to Jack’s death. Tessa said James made it across the road, with Jack right behind him. On the other side, James went into the ditch and Jack was struck by the van.
“I don’t remember much, it was like a blur,” Tessa said.
Tessa testified that she heard Kayla yell and thought one of the dogs was struck. Then she saw her cousin Jack laying in the middle of the road with blood dribbling from his head and no life in his eyes.
A witness to the crash ushered the kids to a vehicle to wait for their parents. Inside, Kayla said she told James and Isabelle they should pray for Jack.
Dr. Butch Huston, forensic pathologist with the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s office, performed the autopsy on Jack. He noted most of Jack’s injuries were to his head, including a fractured skull, broken jawbone and numerous cuts and scrapes.
The cause of Jack’s death was multiple traumatic injuries consistent with a pedestrian versus vehicle accident, Huston said. The manner of death was ruled accidental.
Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Turcotte, who responded to the fatal collision on May 9, 2009, also offered partial testimony on Friday and was expected to return when the trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday.
Ryan also intends to call as witnesses other officers who responded to the fatal crash, drivers of vehicles that had stopped to let the kids cross the county road and an accident reconstructionist.
James and Isabelle Larson were listed on the witness list for the trial, but after holding a preliminary examination of the children Askegaard ruled that neither would be allowed to testify because of their young age and lack of understanding and memory.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.