A Dundas teen appeared in court Monday to face a misdemeanor charge of careless driving for a December car wreck that killed three members of a Lakeville family.

Grieving relatives of the victims -- three generations of the same family -- looked on and some said they were upset that grand jurors had returned a single charge of careless driving against Brandon Michael Iams, 17, who was driving without headlights on Dec. 12.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said he shares their frustration and had pushed for three felony counts of vehicular homicide against the inexperienced driver. But the grand jury indictment, issued Thursday and unsealed in court Monday, found no gross negligence, an element needed for such a serious charge.

Iams had had his provisional license only five weeks when he drove a pickup truck across a center line and slammed into a car on Kenwood Trail in Lakeville. He woke up at Hennepin County Medical Center with no memory of the accident, only to be told that all three people in the other car had died.

Killed were Shirley Iverson, 71, her daughter, Debra Buhmann, 34, and granddaughter, Alexis Iverson-Ferkul, 8, all of Lakeville.

"He's going to have to live with this the rest of his life, and obviously, he feels horrible," Iams' attorney said Monday after the teen appeared in Dakota County Juvenile Court in Hastings.

The maximum penalty for careless driving is now 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Backstrom says that's not enough.

Iam's attorney, Daniel Guerrero, however, noted there's no evidence that Iams was drinking, using drugs or on a cell phone when the accident happened, as was widely speculated.

"The grand jury did the right thing based on the evidence they had," Guerrero said.

A witness saw the truck without headlights on, heading west on County Rd. 50, also known as Kenwood Trail. The driver pulled into a turning lane at Ipava Avenue, signaling a turn. But instead of turning, he returned to Hwy. 50, where he entered the eastbound lane and crushed the front end of Buhmann's sedan.

Backstrom said he'll renew his battle for greater penalties in such cases. "I have been trying for three years unsuccessfully at the Legislature to increase the penalty for careless driving that results in death from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor," he said.

"I did explain that to the family in this terrible tragedy today," he said Monday. "I've told them that I believe that there needs to be a higher level of consequence when someone's negligence takes a life -- in this case three lives -- than when someone's negligence results in property damage."

Accident reconstruction determined that neither Iams, who was driving a 2004 Chevrolet Silverado, or Buhmann, who was driving a 2005 Hyundai Elantra, was speeding.

Iams had been ticketed for speeding in Rice County before getting his provisional license.

Iams was released Monday to his mother, pending his next court appearance on May 17.

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017