An 18-year-old driver has been charged with traveling roughly twice the speed limit on a foggy road west of Duluth, where he hit another vehicle and killed the motorist.
Jesse J. Kowalczak, of Proctor, Minn., was charged Tuesday in St. Louis County District Court with criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation in connection with the crash on May 13 that killed Leah J. Sarko, 48, of Duluth, and seriously injured her 11-year-old son.
Kowalczak has a court date scheduled for Jan. 9. Court records do not list an attorney for him. Messages were left Wednesday for Kowalczak seeking his response to the allegations.
The collision about 8:45 a.m. at S. Ugstad Road and Ugstad Junction left Sarko's son, Evan, with a concussion and numerous broken bones.
Sarko's online obituary noted that "her last act was casting her momma bubble over her son to save him during the accident."
A State Patrol analysis of the crash concluded that Kowalczak was traveling up to 89 mph at the time of the crash on a road with a speed limit of 40 mph.
According to the criminal complaint:
Sarko was at a stop sign preparing to turn left from eastbound Ugstad Junction onto northbound S. Ugstad Road.
"It is likely that she could not see [Kowalczak's] car speeding toward her through the fog before it was too late." Kowalczak, heading south on S. Ugstad Road, hit Sarko's vehicle broadside.
A sheriff's sergeant heading to the crash site said that the fog was so thick that he had to drive under the speed limit out of safety concerns.
Emergency medical responders found Sarko's Subaru Forester nearly 70 yards from where the collision occurred and determined that she was already dead. Her son was outside the vehicle "calling for his mother" as neighbors tended to him, the charges read.
Kowalczak was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of his injuries.
The patrol's investigation found that Kowalczak's driving behavior that morning met the legal definition of gross negligence, given the foggy conditions and his "extreme speed."