MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A Twin Cities woman is facing multiple felony charges after she allegedly drove drunk in the north metro, crashed her car into a tree and caused her infant child to suffer a traumatic brain injury.
Phethile Kunene, 40, of Richfield, is charged with two counts of criminal vehicular operation, child endangerment and driving under the influence (a gross misdemeanor), an arrest warrant filed last week in Ramsey County shows.
According to a criminal complaint, the charges stem from an incident on Jan. 19, when Kunene was driving herself and her then 7-month-old daughter on Interstate 35E near Arden Hills.
Kunene’s erratic driving prompted several motorists to call 911. One caller said that they saw that the car seat in the back of Kunene’s sedan wasn’t properly secured with a seat belt.
Another person called after Kunene rear-ended their car “out of nowhere,” swerved across four lanes of traffic without braking, and drove into the right-hand ditch, continuing to accelerate.
In the ditch, Kunene lost control of the car, went up the embankment and slammed into a tree, the complaint states. First responders heard Kunene screaming as they approached the car. Later, Kunene allegedly told state troopers that she had no idea why she was driving in the north metro.
Emergency crews found the infant girl on the car’s floor, behind the driver’s seat, with a large gash on her forehead, bleeding profusely.
The child was in the hospital for days, the complaint states. Doctors diagnosed the child has having a skull fracture and a traumatic brain injury. Kunene suffered a broken ankle bone.
A blood test showed that Kunene had a blood alcohol content of 0.17 – more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 – shortly after the crash, when she was in the hospital.
If convicted of the felonies and the DWI, Kunene faces more than a decade behind bars and/or more than $30,000 in fines.
According to the complaint, Kunene had her license revoked in 2004 after a DWI incident.