A 92-year-old St. Paul woman was convicted Thursday of careless and inattentive driving for plowing into two city public works employees last year, causing one to lose a hand and the other to suffer a severe brain injury.
Mabel Schleif's attorney told jurors during closing arguments that she suffered a "silent heart attack" on April 26 when the accident occurred. Prosecutor Rachel Kraker said that other health problems related to Schleif's age (she was 91 at the time) were to blame, including glaucoma, hypertension and memory loss.
"Ms. Schleif was driving hard, and she failed to follow some of the most basic traffic laws that we have," Kraker said.
Thomas Haack and Craig Johnson were picking up garbage on N. Fairview Avenue under the Interstate 94 bridge when Schleif struck them. Both were wearing fluorescent-colored vests.
Their truck was parked in the right lane with amber strobe lights on the roof flashing. The truck's emergency lights were also activated and a large yellow "Be Prepared to Stop" sign was displayed.
Schleif was driving about 35 miles per hour at the time. Her attorney, Michael O'Neill, said she has traveled the same route about 1,700 times in the past five years while traveling to visit her older sister.
Schleif would have had the sense to stop if she hadn't experienced a medical episode, he told jurors.
Johnson was pinned between the truck and Schleif's car. He lost his left hand and part of that forearm. He also broke both legs and other bones.
Haack was propelled over Schleif's car and suffered broken bones and a concussion, among other injuries.
O'Neill noted that no one at the scene or hospital asked whether Schleif was conscious at the time of the crash. Kraker argued that a driver behind Schleif's car did not see her slump over to the side or over her steering wheel as if unconscious.
The defense's theory was created three days after the crash, Kraker said.
Schleif will be sentenced Tuesday on the convictions, both misdemeanors. Each carries a sentence of up to 90 days in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.
O'Neill said he would be surprised if Schleif was given any prison time.
"It was a tragic case," he said. "My client feels terrible for the victims."
Johnson was present when the verdict was read but declined to comment.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib