For years, the law has said it was too much of a risk to let felon Nathan P. Brooks have a driver’s license.
On Tuesday, the law spoke again, saying the unlicensed 26-year-old was “doing doughnuts” in an SUV on a southern Minnesota pasture during a drinking party and fatally hit one of his friends before hunkering down until the next day in the basement of a home on his father’s property.
Brooks, of Austin, was charged with criminal vehicular homicide in Freeborn County District Court and remains jailed in lieu of $40,000 bail.
Alex D. Tapp, 30, was hit and killed while attending the party around a bonfire in the pasture behind the home about 7 miles west of Austin.
Tapp, also of Austin, died at the scene, his feet coming to rest in the tracks left by the tattered SUV that hit him, authorities said.
Brooks fled on foot, then turned himself in late Sunday afternoon at the County Law Enforcement Center in Albert Lea, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Minnesota court records show that for his adult life — and even much younger — Brooks has had difficulty dealing either with alcohol or obeying the law when driving.
The trouble often came when the two were combined.
Brooks’ license has been revoked since 2009. The state Department of Public Safety classifies him as “inimical to public safety” when it comes to driving.
He’s been convicted of drunken driving three times as an adult, most recently in 2014, and once at age 15.
His felony conviction in 2014 for first-degree drunken driving drew a three-year prison sentence. Mower County Judge Jeffrey Kritzer stayed the prison time, gave Brooks 30 days in jail and placed him on supervised probation until 2022.
Conditions of his being freed included no drinking and no driving.
Counting Tuesday’s charge of driving after having his license taken away, Brooks has now been caught at least eight times in the past eight years committing that offense. In two of those instances, he was driving drunk.
County Attorney David Walker said he has no solution for how to keep the public safe from such risky drivers. “Oh, boy, that is a tremendous challenge,” he said. “I don’t know what to say.”
Brooks said little during his court appearance Tuesday afternoon other than explaining that he was driving on his father’s private land, not on a public street, and that he needs to apply for a public defender.
Kelly Brooks, the defendant’s mother, said her son was among those taking turns trying to resuscitate Tapp and he led the paramedics to him.
She added that he thought it was legal for him to be driving on private land and “it wasn’t reckless driving. It was a terrible, unfortunate accident. That was Nathan’s friend.”
According to the criminal complaint:
Tapp and others were among a group drinking beer and liquor around a bonfire. One of the partyers told authorities they had been riding ATVs on the property earlier in the day. He said that Brooks was there as well in a large SUV “doing doughnuts” and “4-wheeling.”
The witness said he then saw Tapp on the ground and heard Brooks say, “I thought I hit the dog.”
Another person in the group said Brooks told her to call 911. The first emergency responders arrived, and Brooks was gone.
At least two people at the party told authorities they saw Brooks drinking rum that night.
Deputies looked for Brooks and checked the home but came up empty.
The next day, Brooks surrendered and he explained that his “heart just stopped” when he realized he had hit something. He said he went to the home’s basement because he was distraught and wasn’t trying to hide.
Brooks denied “messing around” while driving in the pasture. He also denied hiding and said he wasn’t getting calls because his cellphone battery had died.
Marty Amdahl, who once dated Tapp and remained in touch even after they broke up, said that Tapp “loved his friends so much and wanted to spend time with them. We all hung out in the same fun group. This is the worst way for it to happen.”