Peter Berge, the prominent St. Paul attorney who ran over a runner in a St. Paul crosswalk 14 months ago, will not be charged with any crime in the death, but could yet be held legally liable in civil court.
City Attorney Lyndsey Olson’s decision to not charge Berge with a misdemeanor follows the conclusion two months ago by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to not charge Berge with a felony, saying he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol nor on his cellphone at the time of the crash.
Olson said in a statement Thursday that “after a careful review of all the evidence and each of the witness statements, we do not believe that we could successfully prove beyond a reasonable doubt any criminal charges arising out of this incident. We therefore declined to initiate a criminal complaint in this matter.”
While Berge, 61, will not be held criminally responsible for Scott Spoo’s death, an attorney for the victim’s family said Thursday he is close to suing for wrongful death.
“We’ve done our own investigation and our own reconstruction,” said attorney Jay Urban. “We are dealing with Mr. Berge and his insurance company itself. … I’ve got the lawsuit drafted.”
Urban said that he intends to compel Berge to give a sworn deposition. Berge will be legally bound to comply, given that the lack of charges means he has no Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
Berge was found to have an aggressive form of brain cancer when he was hospitalized shortly after the late-afternoon crash on Feb. 22, 2017, that killed the 35-year-old Spoo as he ran on Mississippi Boulevard at Dayton Avenue.
Police had suspected that Berge was under the influence of an illicit substance and on his cellphone at the time, but Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman concluded otherwise. Freeman’s office handled the case to allow the office of Ramsey County John Choi to avoid a conflict of interest because Berge was a political supporter of Choi.
Urban criticized Freeman’s decision, saying prosecutors ignored important evidence and gave Berge preferential treatment because of his standing in legal circles. Berge was the ethics chairman for the Hennepin County Bar Association and also web director for Minnesota Continuing Legal Education, a nonprofit established by the Minnesota State Bar Association that develops educational services for lawyers. He left that job weeks before the crash.
Berge’s attorney, Charles Hawkins, countered Urban’s allegations, calling him “ill-informed and uninformed.”
With all criminal matters closed, Hawkins said Thursday the time it took for authorities to decline pursuing charges took longer than necessary because police kept “going down investigatory paths that … proved to have no evidentiary value.”
Spoo, of St. Paul, was valedictorian for New Richmond (Wis.) High School’s Class of 2000. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before transferring to and graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He received his master’s from the University of Minnesota and worked for 3M in the Twin Cities for 11 years and as an engineer.
He also was an avid runner and bicyclist who “worked to bring more awareness to bicycle safety for both bicyclists and motorists,” his online obituary read.