Jurors have convicted a 37-year-old man of felony hit-and-run for going through a red light while high on methamphetamine and killing a family man who was headed to his school district job northwest of the Twin Cities.
Juan Carlos Garcia-Morales, 37, was convicted Wednesday in Sherburne County District Court of criminal vehicular homicide in the death of 33-year-old Matthew D. Barthel, of Big Lake, on the morning of Feb. 22.
Garcia-Morales, also of Big Lake, remains jailed ahead of sentencing scheduled for June 18.
Federal immigration officials have notified local authorities that they suspect Garcia-Morales of “likely being in the country illegally,” said Shawn Neudauer, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If that is the case, federal authorities could deport him once his sentence is complete, he said.
“All we’ve done so far is talk to him,” Neudauer said. “Nothing official has been done beyond that.”
At the time of the crash, just west of Big Lake at Hwy. 10 and County Road 81, Barthel was about 3 miles from arriving at his job in technology support for the Monticello School District.
Then-Superintendent Jim Johnson said at the time that Barthel, who joined the district in 2013 and was married with two young children, always had “a positive attitude. When he was working he was in his element.”
Toxicology tests found amphetamine and methamphetamine in Garcia-Morales’ blood at the time of the crash. He also had a loaded handgun, according to authorities.
A week after the crash, Garcia-Morales at first told a state trooper that he couldn’t recall whether the light was red or green when he entered the intersection, the charges read. Later in the same statement, he told the trooper that he thought the light was green, the complaint added.
He also told the trooper that “he had been involved in an argument with his girlfriend that morning [and] also said he was drinking a bottle of Gatorade which made him feel weird,” the charging document continued.
Garcia-Morales has been convicted in Minnesota at least five times in the past 10 years for driving without a valid license.
He had a valid license at the time of the collision, the state Department of Public Safety said. It was restored from revocation less than six weeks before the crash, the agency added.
His criminal history in the state also includes convictions for disorderly conduct, domestic assault, malicious punishment of a child and receiving stolen property.