A Rosemount man is facing gross misdemeanor charges for allegedly running over and killing a pedestrian on Hennepin Avenue earlier this year in what is likely the first application of a new state law raising penalties for reckless driving.
Jake Mattern, 23, made his first court appearance Friday morning in the Feb. 2 crash that killed Rachel David. She was crossing Hennepin Avenue in a crosswalk at 8th Street, with a green light, when Mattern’s truck turned left and hit her. The crash occurred during a snowstorm, but a State Patrol sergeant investigating the incident concluded that “weather conditions likely were not a contributing factor,” according to the criminal complaint.
Minneapolis prosecutors filed five charges against Mattern, including gross misdemeanor reckless driving. Reckless driving was a misdemeanor until 2015, when the Legislature made it a gross misdemeanor in circumstances that result in great bodily harm. The other charges Mattern faces are failing to yield to a pedestrian, failing to use due care to avoid hitting a pedestrian, careless driving — all misdemeanors — and criminal vehicular operation resulting in bodily harm — a gross misdemeanor. If convicted, the gross misdemeanor charges could carry sentences of up to a year.
“The charging decision in this case was based on a thorough review of all the evidence, which included several different videos,” said Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal. “And based on that review, we thought these counts were warranted and that we have probable cause.”
Robert Paule, who is representing Mattern, said, “My client obviously feels very badly about this, and it’s a tragedy that this woman died.”
Paule declined to comment further until he could review evidence in the case.
Law got tougher
A Star Tribune investigation of pedestrian deaths in the metro area found that drivers who kill pedestrians, but are sober and stay at the scene, are typically not charged with a crime or face misdemeanor charges that carry light sentences.
But the state law change making reckless driving that results in great bodily harm a gross misdemeanor gives prosecutors a middle ground between a misdemeanor and the higher-threshhold felony charges that typically follow a fatal drunken driving crash.
“We have dealt over the years with just heartbreaking cases involving death. And the most significant charge we could bring often was careless driving,” Segal said, noting the options that were previously available to prosecutors. “And that’s just a misdemeanor offense. It’s a traffic ticket. And people’s lives are at stake.”
No drivers in the metro area who killed pedestrians between 2010 and 2014 were convicted of reckless driving. That’s partly because as a misdemeanor it carried the same penalties as careless driving, which is easier to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Six drivers were convicted of careless driving.
Criminal vehicular operation resulting in bodily harm, one of the other charges Mattern faces, requires proving a driver operated a vehicle in a “grossly negligent manner,” which has been defined by the courts as “very great negligence or without even scant care.” That’s a higher standard than reckless driving.
Reckless driving means the crash occurred while a driver was “aware of and consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the driving may result in harm to another or another’s property.”
Video of crash
The complaint said Mattern’s truck hit David “head-on” as he turned left onto Hennepin — before pedestrians had cleared the crosswalk.
“The impact occurs directly in front of the defendant at what would have been the center of his field of vision had he been looking straight ahead,” the complaint said.
Prosecutors said video footage showed the truck maintained the same speed after the crash, dragging David for about the length of a bus before the rear tires rolled over her body. The truck then stopped.
When officers asked bystanders who had hit David, Mattern allegedly replied, “I guess I did, I didn’t see or feel anything,” according to the complaint.
Mattern is due in court for a pretrial hearing in early August.
David, a 56-year-old Minneapolis resident, was a communications specialist at Care Providers of Minnesota. The company let employees off work early that afternoon ahead of the storm.
Her boss said at the time that David did not drive, relying instead on public transportation.