Matthew K. Hartley had several drinks, hopped on his motorcycle and raced down a rural road, swerving into the wrong lane and fatally striking a woman in Elko New Market last fall, prosecutors said Tuesday during opening statements of the hit-and-run case.
“He had no regard for others that evening,” prosecutor Michael Budkasaid during the Scott County trial.
Hartley is charged with three counts of criminal vehicular homicide: one for gross negligence, one for being under the influence of alcohol and the third for leaving the scene of the crash.
The crash killed Mollie Mahowald, 24, an Army specialist from Lakeville, just after bar close on Sept. 25. Hartley, 34, of Farmington, has been held in the Scott County Jail on $500,000 bail since his arrest.
Defense attorney Robert Miller did not deny Hartley’s role in the crash, but he painted the incident as a “horrific accident” on a dark, gravel road with no lane markers. Miller told the jury that there was “no scientific evidence” that Hartley was over the legal limit of 0.08 percent, since authorities never conducted a blood-alcohol test.
Harley struck Mahowald about 2:25 a.m. in the 9700 block of Main Street, a few miles from her home. She was on the side of the road, standing by her truck with other people when she was hit by the speeding motorcycle, according to the criminal complaint.
Mahowald spent the day at a barbecue in downtown Elko New Market with family and friends, then headed down the street to a local bar. She called her younger sister Julia for a ride, who arrived a few minutes later to find an officer performing CPR.
“I had to call my mom and tell her her daughter was dying,” Julia Mahowald, 18, testified through tears.
A witness told police that Hartley appeared “hammered” and had been hanging out on the road, listening to music and doing burnouts earlier that evening.
Authorities located him 13 hours after the crash — his motorcycle hidden under a canoe — after a tip from his friend.
At the time, Hartley had been convicted of DWI two months prior, and had another one pending. His motorcycle operator’s permit had expired in June, and he also had his standard driver’s license revoked, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
Miller contended that Hartley was not traveling at excessive speeds — crash reconstructionists believe no higher than 43 miles per hour, he said. No speed limit is posted on the gravel road where the crash occurred.
Hartley rejected a proposed plea deal last week that would have sent him to prison for 13 years had he pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal vehicular homicide.
Hartley’s criminal history in Minnesota has numerous violations, includes at least 27 driving convictions. In 2015, he was accused of attempted to fake a seizure to get out of a DWI after being stopped by police while heading down Interstate 35W at 95 miles per hour.
He’s also been convicted of domestic abuse, terroristic threats, burglary and theft.
Mahowald, a graduate of New Prague High School, signed up for the Army when she was 17 and spent her 19th birthday serving in Iraq as a vehicle mechanic, her father said. She served another tour in Afghanistan shortly thereafter, then joined the Minnesota National Guard in 2015 after returning home.
She was studying to be a veterinarian technician.