Man jailed who posted smiley face with online pic of car damaged in fatal crash

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 5, 2014 - 9:03 PM

Driver suspected in teen’s death now held for violating his probation.

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This Facebook photo was posted by car owner Michael J. Vanwagner

A driver whose back-to-back crashes along a Brooklyn Park highway two weeks ago killed a 16-year-old motorist has yet to be charged in those wrecks, but he is now jailed for violating terms of his probation from a 2013 felony conviction.

Michael J. Vanwagner, 24, of Coon Rapids, was arrested Friday and is being held without bail before a Monday court hearing. A warrant for his arrest was issued last Wednesday, one day after Jason McCarthy, of Brooklyn Center, died from injuries suffered when his car was struck July 22 by Vanwagner on Hwy. 252.

The State Patrol said it suspects Vanwagner had been under the influence of alcohol when he hit one car, took off and then struck McCarthy’s vehicle. The patrol said results from Vanwagner’s blood-alcohol test are pending.

Also, Vanwagner was driving despite having a revoked license for failing to have insurance.

Abstaining from alcohol and remaining law-abiding are among the many conditions of Vanwagner’s probation stemming from a June 2013 conviction for knife-wielding terroristic threats he made against a romantic rival in Champlin Park.

After last month’s crashes but before McCarthy died, Vanwagner posted photos of his severely damaged car on his Facebook page and included comments such as, “That’s her front end after I got done with her lol.” He signed that message with a smiley face.

Under a second photo, he commented: “I’m all good slept a day in the hospital then came home and did yard work lol.”

Vanwagner, who said that he didn’t realize he had hit a person, removed the photos the day after McCarthy died.

Witness’ account

From behind the wheel of his pickup truck, Roy Peterson saw nearly the entire episode play out, from when Vanwagner left the first collision to when he inexplicably stopped in the middle of the highway to when he rammed McCarthy’s car at roughly 60 miles per hour while the teen waited for a left-turn light.

Peterson, of Ham Lake, first saw Vanwagner in his car after the initial wreck, heading down Hwy. 252 “with no regard for anything else around him,” he said Tuesday.

Vanwagner veered onto the grassy median, almost hit a thick cable before he returned to the highway, going “faster and slower, really sporadically,” Peterson said.

Then he “came to a complete stop in the middle lane,” Peterson said. “Everyone was aware of him.”

Peterson said he pulled up next to Vanwagner and saw “his head rolled over to the left on the seat cushion, and his eyes were rolled back in his head.”

As Peterson called 911, “I look up, and he’s taking off again. I could’ve sworn he was unconscious. I was really surprised to see him take off.”

All Peterson could do, he said, was watch Vanwagner’s accelerating car “go all the way down the left-hand turn lane. There was no sign of brake lights” before the collision with McCarthy’s stationary car unleashed enough force to “lift both of them up.”

Peterson, leaning on his training as a first responder, went to McCarthy’s aid.

“He was breathing,” Peterson said. But there was no response from the gravely wounded teen during the several minutes before emergency personnel arrived.

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