Road rage case goes to trial in Anoka County

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 23, 2012 - 6:30 AM

Woman allegedly pointed gun at motorist after being honked at.

Trying to help a driver who appeared to be swerving off an Anoka County highway, Nicole Hedblum honked her horn. Moments later, Hedblum said, the driver pulled beside her car and pointed a handgun at her head.

That driver, Rebecca Treptow, went on trial Wednesday in Anoka County Court -- five years after her husband shot an undercover police officer in the leg following an angry exchange in an apparent case of road rage. She and the couple's two children were passengers when that incident occurred.

The start of the trial comes less than a month after the Minnesota Department of Transportation launched a campaign to reduce aggressive driving behaviors -- such as tailgating, screaming, speeding -- which last year were responsible for 61 deaths and nearly 7,000 injuries in the state, officials say.

Treptow, 33, denies that she pointed a gun at Hedblum on Hwy. 10 in Coon Rapids in February. She was charged with felony second-degree assault and terroristic threats and a misdemeanor dangerous weapon violation. A handgun was found on the floor of her sport-utility vehicle when she was arrested shortly after Hedblum called 911.

Hedblum was the first witness to testify Wednesday. She described that day in February as "kind of wild for me." She said it appeared Treptow was reaching down for something in the SUV when the vehicle started to swerve toward a ditch, so she honked. Treptow slammed on her brakes and, as Hedblum tried to pass, drove alongside Hedblum's car.

"I saw she had her left hand on the steering wheel as she reached across her body with her right hand and pointed the gun at me," Hedblum testified.

Although she thought for a split second that Treptow was going to shoot, she followed her off an exit, got her license plate information and called police, she said. Both drivers ended up at a nearby cul-de-sac and rolled down their windows.

"Why are you following me?" asked Treptow, according to Hedblum.

"Why are you pointing a gun at me?" replied Hedblum.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Seth Cobin questioned why Hedblum would follow somebody who had allegedly just threatened her with a gun. He also said he doubted that she even saw a gun.

"Guns don't look like cellphones," Hedblum replied. "It's not that hard to miss when you have a gun pointed at your face."

Pretrial activity

Earlier, during a hearing before jury selection, attorneys briefly discussed a police report in which Treptow said she had a gun in her vehicle because of a stalker. During a break in the trial, she declined to comment.

More than half the members of the jury pool said someone in their family owned a gun, a question raised by Cobin.

Before the jury was seated, Anoka County Judge Sean Gibbs asked Cobin and prosecutor Kurt Deile whether a plea deal had been discussed. Treptow was offered a deal that potentially could have kept her out of jail, but Cobin said she wanted to go to trial because she has always maintained her innocence.

In 2009, Martin Treptow, now 40, pleaded guilty to reckless discharge of a firearm from the 2007 incident in Coon Rapids, in which he wounded undercover Robbinsdale police officer Landen Beard. Beard acknowledged that he had passed illegally in a line of traffic. Treptow said that, after angry exchanges between the drivers, Beard brandished a gun. Treptow said he fired to defend his wife and two children. Beard said that he pulled his gun and identified himself as an officer after seeing Treptow brandish his weapon. Beard was indicted on a felony charge, but it was later dismissed.

Trying to curtail incidents

Violent acts of road rage are very rare, said Lt. Eric Roeske of the State Patrol. But seemingly lesser aggressive driving traits, including honking, screaming at a motorist or making hand gestures, can quickly ramp up to a far more dangerous end, he said. MnDOT's aggressive driving campaign is a component of the statewide "Toward Zero Deaths" initiative.

The State Patrol hasn't seen a dramatic increase in aggressive driving or road rage reports in the past several years. Roeske said, however, that officers are hearing from the general public that "things have been worse than ever." Summertime can produce more incidents because of higher traffic density and drivers losing their patience, he said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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