Driver is held in fatal hit-run in Dinkytown

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 22, 2011 - 9:30 PM

Police also recovered a car suspected in the crash.

Minneapolis police say they have the driver and the car that mowed down three University of Minnesota students as they walked home in Dinkytown late last week.

A 29-year-old Roseville man, fresh off probation from a drunken-driving conviction, was arrested Thursday for allegedly driving on a sidewalk and hitting the three people early April 15. He could be charged early next week.

The man was taken into custody about four hours after the death of one of those struck, Ben Van Handel, 23, of Appleton, Wis.

The driver was apprehended without resistance at his workplace in Burnsville, said Minneapolis police Sgt. Stephen McCarty. Police were led to him thanks to "witness accounts and tips," he added.

The suspect is being held in Hennepin County jail without bail, "pending murder charges," McCarty said.

Police also found the car the suspect was driving, McCarty said. He declined to say where the vehicle, a white Mitsubishi, was located.

Police had asked the public to be on the lookout for an early 2000s, white four-door Toyota with front-end damage. State records show that a relative of the suspect who lives at the same address owns a 2004 Mitsubishi four-door. Its color was not listed.

The passage of time between the hit-and-run and the arrest hampers efforts to determine whether the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash, the sergeant said.

The arrest follows another pedestrian fatality in Dinkytown. On Thursday morning, Kimberly Yeong Sil Hull, 25, was killed after the bicycle she was riding was struck by a dump truck at 4th Street and 15th Avenue SE.

The April 15 hit-and-run occurred soon after the Dinkytown bars closed. A car going the wrong way on one-way 5th Street near 12th Avenue SE. drove onto the sidewalk and struck Van Handel and 21-year-old students Katelynn Hanson and Sarah Bagley. Van Handel was not walking with the other two.

Van Handel, an economics major set to graduate next month, was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center with a severe brain injury and broken bones. He never regained consciousness and died Thursday afternoon.

Hanson and Bagley escaped serious injury. Hanson, her boyfriend, Joseph Bailin, 22, and Bagley had been at the Kitty Kat Club celebrating their recent acceptance into graduate school to study architecture.

Bailin, who was not struck, estimated that the car was going 30 miles per hour when it hit the other three.

McCarty said that despite the arrest, police still want anyone with information about the case to call the homicide unit at 612-673-2941.

According to Minnesota court records, the suspect pleaded guilty to third-degree drunken driving, a gross misdemeanor, in Ramsey County in February 2009. In that case, according to the charges, police pulled the man over in Roseville and noted fresh front-end damage to his car.

Earlier that evening, a hit-and-run of two parked vehicles was reported near Interstate 35W and University Avenue SE. in Minneapolis, involving a vehicle of similar style and nearly identical license plate.

The man's attorney in that earlier case, Shawn Betts, said Friday that his client was never held responsible for that damage.

He was sentenced to a year in jail, with all but 30 days stayed, and two years' probation. He also had to undergo a chemical dependency evaluation and treatment. In exchange for his plea, charges of driving after revocation and aggravated third-degree drunken driving were thrown out.

He violated his probation by twice testing positive for a chemical found in marijuana and once for alcohol, which resulted in a 90-day jail sentence. His probation ended March 1.

The sentence is not out of the ordinary. In 81,000 DWI cases from 2002 through 2009, just 900 first-time offenders received the maximum sentence of 90 days, according to a Star Tribune analysis of state sentencing data. The average sentence was a year of probation.

Repeat offenders are also treated lightly, even if they have been convicted of four DWIs in 10 years, a felony that comes with a recommended prison sentence of three years. If offenders have little criminal history, the guidelines say they can be put on probation instead.

Of 1,381 felony DWI cases in which the guidelines recommended prison sentences, however, judges were still lenient, reducing or suspending prison time in 468 cases, records show.

In November 2008, the man arrested in the fatal hit-and-run pleaded guilty to misdemeanor careless driving in Hennepin County. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail with all but three stayed. Conditions of his sentence included attending a DWI clinic.

In 2005, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession in St. Louis County. In June 2009 he pleaded guilty to public nuisance by obstructing or interfering with a roadway or waterway. He paid a $250 fine for the petty misdemeanor.

Star Tribune staff writers Lora Pabst and Abby Simons contributed to this report. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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