Charges: St. Paul man drunk in buddy's 'car surfing' death

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 4, 2012 - 9:10 AM

Three counts were filed against a St. Paul man accused of driving drunk when his buddy flew off vehicle's roof.

A St. Paul man was drunk when he gave two of his buddies a late-night "car surfing" ride atop a swerving SUV along a rural road in northwestern Wisconsin, sending one of them tumbling to his death, according to a criminal complaint.

Cole T. Fohrenkamm, 21, of St. Paul, was charged Wednesday in Burnett County District Court with three felonies: homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle, homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle and first-degree reckless endangerment. Fohrenkamm remains free pending a court appearance Dec. 19.

Killed on Aug. 11 was Shawn G. Swanson, 21, who was with Fohrenkamm and other St. Paul Johnson High School pals on their traditional weekend getaway of boating, fishing and hanging around the bonfire. Swanson suffered a "severe injury to the back of his head," the complaint read.

After Swanson fell, Fohrenkamm, Kyle A. Miller and Stephen V. Fahey drove their friend in the SUV to the St. Croix Casino in nearby Danbury, Wis., for help, according to the complaint.

Without a cell phone, they could not call for help, the complaint continued. Swanson was pronounced dead at the casino, a few miles north of where he was hurt.

Analysis of Fohrenkamm's blood that night determined that his blood-alcohol content was 0.116 percent, above the state's legal limit of 0.08 percent for driving, according to the criminal complaint. The blood analysis also revealed evidence of marijuana use by Fohrenkamm.

According to the complaint:

Shortly before midnight, law enforcement met Fohrenkamm, Miller and Fahey in the casino parking lot. Miller said they were driving on what the locals refer to as "Rustic Road" in Oakland Township and pulled over so some of them could "go to the bathroom."

Swanson then got on top of the SUV, and Fohrenkamm pulled away. Also on the outside of the vehicle was Steven L. Uhl as Fohrenkamm drove about 40 miles per hour and weaved from side to side as part of a prank known as "car surfing."

"During this escapade," the complaint continued, Swanson fell onto the road. Uhl yelled for Fohrenkamm to stop. The SUV turned back to where Swanson was on the road and motionless.

After arriving at the casino, Fohrenkamm admitted to a tribal officer that he was the driver. He also admitted he had been drinking that day.

Car surfing has for years been captured on video and posted on the Internet, with riders shown either standing or lying on vehicle roofs.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that its analysis of news media reports identified 58 car-surfing deaths and 41 people injured in the United States from 1990 to August 2008. The agency added that most car-surfing reports came from the Midwest and the South and that most involved males ages 15 to 19.

In one of those cases, David Weyrens, 19, fell to his death while car surfing in Sheboygan, Wis., in July 2005. A passenger told authorities that Weyrens yelled to driver and lifelong childhood friend John McKenzie, "Is that all you got?" McKenzie was sentenced to 60 days in jail and a $300 fine.

In northwestern Minnesota's Red Lake County in November 1999, Davis Gustafson, 19, of Grand Forks, N.D., was standing on a van when the 18-year-old driver braked and Gustafson flew off. He suffered severe head injuries and died a week later. The driver, Timothy Sigdahl, of Grand Forks, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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