A Farmington teenager who allegedly told friends last fall about a ploy to crash her car for the insurance money faces criminal charges stemming from a collision that injured two people a few weeks later.
Amelia Pothen, 19, spent a November morning smoking marijuana and driving around with a friend, then steered her car into an oncoming vehicle on Hwy. 3 in Rosemount, according to a complaint filed by the Dakota County attorney's office on Thursday. Pothen's passenger broke her leg in the almost- head-on collision, and the driver of the other vehicle suffered cuts on his hand and injuries to his knee and shoulder.
Here's what investigators say happened:
Pothen told a friend two months before the collision that she wanted to crash her car, then cash in on the insurance. A few weeks later, she drove her car into a tree, but did not report it to her insurance company because the damage was less than her deductible.
On Nov. 5, Pothen was driving with her friend, who was not identified in the complaint, when she asked the friend to call some people they knew to ask for gas money. While the friend was on the phone, Pothen told her to buckle her seat belt. Shortly after, Pothen gripped the wheel tight, hit the accelerator and jerked the car into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
Police said the other driver swerved in an unsuccessful attempt to get out of the way.
State troopers found marijuana paraphernalia in Pothen's car, and the friend said she had been smoking marijuana five minutes before the crash.
Pothen, who could not be reached for comment, told an investigator that her vision had gone black just before the crash, a result of not eating that day. She had crashed into the tree a few weeks before after losing control of her car on a gravel road. And telling friends at school that she had hit the tree on purpose was a joke, she told authorities.
Pothen has been charged with four counts of criminal vehicular operation, with the most serious charge carrying a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If convicted, she would likely serve up to a year in jail and up to six years of probation, said James Backstrom, the Dakota County attorney.
Case is very unusual
People cause crashes all the time after drinking or using drugs, but it's rare for a driver to do so deliberately, Backstrom said.
But it does happen. In 2005, a minivan driver in Eagan told a passenger that he was going to kill himself, authorities said, just before crashing into a car driven by a 72-year-old Apple Valley woman, who was killed. The driver, Juan Jesus Rivera Canizal, pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide last summer.
And this spring, at least two Minnesota teenagers died in apparent car-crash suicides in which the other driver was killed or injured.
Hitting another car is rare
Even in cases of suicide by auto, Backstrom said, "If they're intent on killing themselves, they will often run their car into a bridge or a tree or off an embankment, rather than into another vehicle."
"This is an alleged financial-reward crash, which is highly unusual and something we have never seen before," he said.
Pothen is scheduled for arraignment July 28.
Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016