On the day he was to stand trial a second time for the March 2009 fatal hit-and-run of Joanie LeVasseur, Eric James Hunter, 44, pleaded guilty to one felony count in connection with her death.
Dakota County District Judge David Knutson accepted Hunter's guilty plea to leaving the scene of an accident involving death. Another count of the same charge and one of driving after suspension will be dismissed at sentencing.
While the plea brought some closure to LeVasseur's mother, it didn't bring any satisfaction.
"It's not a victory, by no means," said Patty Boever of Farmington. "At least it's going to be over with. I need to get this over with. It's been hanging over my head for [almost] four years."
Hunter's first trial ended in a hung jury in October 2010. Even then, there was no question that the car Hunter was driving hit LeVasseur, who was deaf, as she ran across Cedar Avenue S. in Apple Valley. The question that the jury grappled with was whether Hunter knew that he had hit a person before driving off without stopping or calling police.
"How could you not know you hit a person?" Boever asked then. She and her husband, Bob Boever, said LeVasseur's head had broken through the windshield of the car Hunter was driving, leaving a hole the size of a bowling ball, bits of flesh and blood in the broken glass, and a tuft of her dark hair at his feet, beneath the steering wheel.
Hunter appealed Knutson's declaration of a hung jury on the grounds of double jeopardy, but the Court of Appeals sided with the judge.
On Monday, Hunter, of Rosemount, told the judge that it was days after the accident that he realized it must have been a person he hit, the county attorney's office said.
LeVasseur's fiancé dropped her off at the Wal-Mart on the west side of Cedar Avenue on March 6, 2009, her mother said. She was going to cross the road to get groceries at Cub Foods before he picked her up there. Because LeVasseur crossed the road against a red light, causing the accident, Hunter could be charged only with leaving the scene of an accident, not criminal vehicular homicide.
The latter charge carries a more serious penalty than the former. Hunter is looking at about six months in jail, Boever said. Prosecutor Kevin Golden can ask for a marginally longer sentence, she said.
"It's been a nightmare," Boever said. "It's something that's going to be with me for the rest of my life. I just have to learn how to live with it, I guess."
Sentencing will be Jan. 8. That day is also Boever's mother's birthday. Her name was Joan, too. LeVasseur was cremated and her ashes were interred on top of her grandmother's casket, Boever said.
Staff writer Joy Powell contributed to this report. Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284