Joy ride’s tragic turn tears at 4 families

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 31, 2008 - 11:15 PM

The driver of a Corvette two-seater faces felony charges after the crash that killed three friends riding along. The victims' relatives are split over what should happen.

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Stephen Dooher, 22, of Waverly

Stephen Dooher loved cars and had for years. No wonder that he gathered up his three best friends on a fall day this week for a ride in his newest prize -- a classic 1984 Corvette with a T-top.

With the four twenty-somethings wedged into the two-seater on Monday evening, the sports car left a Wright County country road and crashed. Dooher, the smell of alcohol on his breath, was pinned behind the steering wheel for 12 hours. His three friends were thrown from the car and killed.

On Friday, Dooher, of Waverly, was charged with two counts of criminal-vehicular homicide for each of the three victims: Andrea Northern, 23, of South Haven; Michael DeMars, 22, of Maple Lake; and Derek Kammerer, 22, of Maple Lake.

The families of the dead are divided on whether Dooher, 22, should go to jail.

"Steve's a phenomenal kid, and we'll do everything we can to help him," said Howard Kammerer, Derek's father.

He said that his family and the DeMars family place "absolutely no blame" on Dooher for the crash, adding that "nothing will be gained by sending him to jail."

But Shelly Lidster of Anoka, Andrea Northern's mother, said: "Somebody has to pay. There was no reason for four people to be in that car."

Lidster said an investigator told her that according to a witness who saw the car moments before the crash, Dooher had been speeding and driving erratically.

"The initial deputy on the scene smelled alcohol on his breath," Wright County Attorney Brian Lutes said Friday afternoon, adding that Dooher "gave a statement ... that he admitted to drinking."

Dooher, who was hospitalized after the crash, did not tell authorities how much he had been drinking. Results from tests to determine his blood-alcohol level should be received by county authorities in about 30 days, Lutes said.

In seeking the felony charges, which could lead to up to 12 years in prison, Lutes said he considered the fact that Dooher allowed four people to cram themselves into the car made for two.

Lutes said the crash occurred shortly before 11 p.m. Monday but was not discovered until after 11 a.m. the next day. Lutes said it "didn't appear" that Dooher was conscious much of that time.

Dooher arrived at the jail about 2 p.m. Friday for photographing and fingerprinting on the charges, county officials said. He was released from jail after posting $25,000 bail and agreeing to conditions including electronic home monitoring and pledging to remain in the state and not use alcohol or illegal drugs.

Autopsy results on the three victims are pending. Witnesses told police, according to the charges, that the four had been drinking and partying that night. Lutes said that whether they were drinking "wasn't relevant" to the charges against Dooher. The prosecutor says none of the four was wearing a seat belt.

The Dooher family has declined to comment.

Kammerer's mother, Teresa, said the four were best friends who went to Maple Lake High School together. Dooher, DeMars and Kammerer graduated from Maple Lake in 2005. Northern, Kammerer's girlfriend, moved during 10th grade and attended school elsewhere.

Northern and Kammerer were a couple and had just moved in with his parents about a week ago.

Northern's mother said she knew that the four were close friends and liked to party and drink together. She said she assumed they were gathered to celebrate her daughter's Tuesday birthday.

Everyone also knew of Dooher's pride in his love of cars.

He bought the goldish-yellow Corvette about a month ago and "brought it over to our house and showed it to us," Teresa Kammerer said.

Dooher "always loved cars," said his grandmother, Patricia Dooher, of Scottsdale, Ariz. "He and his dad and his brother were always fixing cars. It was the love of their lives, their hobby together. This is a tragedy of a lifetime."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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