Jurors convicted a 21-year-old Twin Cities man Wednesday who tried to blame the hit-and-run death of his girlfriend on her distracting him with a “passionate kiss” before he slammed into a traffic signal post.
Michael L. Campbell, of Minneapolis, was found guilty in Hennepin County District Court of three counts of criminal vehicular homicide in connection with the death of 20-year-old Ria Patel in an early-morning crash on Sept. 17 in northeast Minneapolis.
“Mr. Campbell was probably drunk, he smashed into a pole going 65 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour zone and he ran away,” County Attorney Mike Freeman said after the verdicts were read.
“Then he tried to deflect responsibility for his actions by claiming Ms. Patel was responsible for her own death by kissing him,” Freeman continued. “He also put her family through more distress by pretending that she was still alive.”
Campbell testified in his seven-day trial that “Patel suddenly grabbed his face while he was driving and gave him a passionate kiss,” a post-verdict statement from the county attorney’s office read. “The crash occurred [supposedly] during that kiss. However, Patel suffered numerous serious injuries to her head and face and Campbell had none, according to testimony. If they had been kissing, Campbell would have had injuries, too.”
Jurors took about three hours to reach their verdicts. Sentencing is set for April 5, and Campbell remains jailed without bail. State sentencing guidelines recommend a four-year term, but Freeman said his office will seek something closer to 4¾ years.
A message was left with Campbell’s attorney Wednesday seeking her reaction to the verdicts.
Patel graduated from the private International School of Minnesota in Eden Prairie and was a junior at the University of St. Thomas at the time of her death.
According to the charges against Campbell, he admitted to drinking before leaving his house with Patel. Friends later told police that he was “super drunk” when they last saw him.
Around 3:50 a.m., Campbell drove his car into a post near Stinson Boulevard and an Interstate 35W exit ramp. The crash brought down the attached traffic light, which hit the passenger’s side, caving in the roof and crushing Patel.
In court, Campbell testified that he knew Patel was dead and yet he sent her sister a text message almost nine hours later asking about Patel’s whereabouts. The sister testified that Campbell then spoke with her on the phone and denied being in a vehicle with Patel the night before.
Court testimony, including some of his own, indicated that Campbell ran about 3 miles to the home he shared with roommates on Randolph Street NE. He then locked himself in his room for several hours, calling Patel’s phone from a blocked number multiple times.
Eventually, he took an Uber ride to St. Michael, where his parents live, although he did not go to their house. Campbell spent more than a day in St. Michael, “and it is during that time that he came up with a new story” about the kiss from Patel distracting him, the county attorney’s statement read after the verdict said.