Charges: Drunk 'smiley face' driver hit teen's stopped car at 60 mph

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 13, 2014 - 1:39 PM

Michael J. Vanwagner

Photo: Hennepin County jail,

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The driver accused in back-to-back crashes in Brooklyn Park last month that killed a 16-year-old motorist was extremely drunk when he hit the teen’s stopped car from behind at 60 miles per hour, according to charges filed Tuesday afternoon.

Michael J. Vanwagner, 24, of Coon Rapids, was charged in Hennepin County District Court with two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide and a misdemeanor, failing to stop for a traffic accident.

The criminal complaint said Vanwagner’s blood alcohol content for soon after the crash was 0.293 percent, nearly four times the legal limit for driving in Minnesota.

While teenager Jason McCarthy, of Brooklyn Center, was fighting for his life in a hospital from the crash along Hwy. 252 on July 22, Vanwagner posted pictures of his badly damaged car that were accompanied by lighthearted comments that included an “lol” and a smiley face.

Also, the Department of Public Safety said Vanwagner was driving at the time despite having a revoked license for having driven without insurance.

Vanwagner said in an interview with the Star Tribune a week after the crashes that he didn’t realize he had hit a person and acknowledged posting the Facebook photos. He removed them soon after McCarthy’s death on July 29.

Vanwagner was on probation at the time of the crashes and ordered to abstain from alcohol and remain law-abiding. His probation stemmed from a June 2013 conviction for knife-wielding terroristic threats he made against a romantic rival in Champlin Park.

McCarthy was an honors student and played bass guitar in the high school band and with friends in a rock band called the Crak Pots. He would have been a junior at Champlin Park High School, where he intended to return to the cross-country team for a third season.

According to Tuesday’s charges:

Vanwagner collided with a vehicle on southbound Hwy. 252 near 85th Avenue. Just as the two drivers were pulling over to the right, Vanwagner hit the other vehicle again and fled down the highway.

A witness saw Vanwagner’s car veer into the median and onto the grass before stopping on the highway. The witness pulled up to Vanwagner’s car and noted that he appeared unconscious.

As the witness started calling 911, Vanwagner sped away, went back into the median and struck the guardrail. Seconds later, he was going 60 mph and did not touch his brakes when he hit McCarthy’s car as it waited to turn left at 73rd Avenue.

That witness, Roy Peterson, told the Star Tribune last week that Vanwagner had “no regard for anything else around him.”

Peterson, a trained first responder, added that he came to McCarthy’s aid and noted that the teen was breathing but unconscious. As for Vanwagner, Peterson said he was conscious but “in a fog.”

The complaint added that officers at the scene “noted a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage” coming from Vanwagner. His speech was slurred, his eyes glassy and unfocused.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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