Suspected drunk driver from Minn. crashes in N.D., kills 2 sisters in his car

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 19, 2014 - 9:02 PM

Teja Beyer

A 51-year-old Minnesota man who allegedly left his own picnic drunk crossed into North Dakota and soon crashed, killing two sisters riding with him as he “showed off” his new car, the women’s family said.

The crash occurred about 9:20 p.m. Saturday on Traill County Road 17, about 35 miles south of Grand Forks, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Dead at the scene were Teja R. Beyer, 21, and Mercedes D. Rowley, 23, the patrol said. A family member in North Dakota said the two women were sisters who lived together in Grand Forks and were helping each other raise their children.

The driver, James G. Yahnke, crashed the car — a 2014 Dodge Challenger — just a few miles west of his hometown of Nielsville and was taken to Sanford Hospital in Fargo with unspecified injuries. Family members say they expect him to recover.

The sisters were attending a picnic being hosted by Yahnke at his home for co-workers, said his brother, Robert Yahnke. Beyer and Yahnke both worked in Crookston at the Winnipeg-based New Flyer bus manufacturing company.

James Yahnke’s son called the sisters’ family afterward and said his father took the women for a ride “to show off his new car” and then crashed, said Debbie Mickelson, the sisters’ aunt.

“[The son] apologized and his mom apologized,” Mickelson said.

Robert Yahnke said everyone in his family “is praying for the other families. We send our condolences.”

The patrol said Yahnke was suspected of being drunk when he was driving west, veered into the right ditch and struck an approach to a driveway, then rolled and hit a second driveway approach before landing on its wheels off to the side of the road.

His driving history in Minnesota includes two drunken-driving convictions in the late 1990s, according to court records.

Both women were thrown from the vehicle, the patrol added, suggesting that neither had on their seat belts or weren’t properly belted in. Beyer had two seat belt violations on her driving record and Rowley one, court records show.

Rowley worked at a nursing home in Crookston and leaves behind children ages 1 and 2, and Beyer gave birth to her only child five months ago, Mickelson said.

Even though Beyer lived with one parent growing up in Red Lake Falls, Minn., and Mercedes with the other parent in Aneta, N.D., “they were very close,” Mickelson said.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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