MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A rollover crash last summer involving two DFL elected officials was “thoroughly and objectively” investigated, the top official with the Minnesota State Patrol said, following questions about a can of alcohol recovered at the scene.
State Auditor Julie Blaha and Sen. Melisa Lopez Franzen, the DFL leader in the chamber, were taken to the hospital and treated for minor injuries sustained in a car accident on the way home from Farmfest in southwest Minnesota on Aug. 4. Blaha’s Jeep, in which Frazen was a passenger, collided with a semitruck at intersection of Minnesota Highway 67 and Redwood County road 13.READ MORE: Next Weather: Top 10 Weather Day Going Into Weekend, But Severe Storms Possible Sunday
Blaha was driving at the time and was later ticketed for failing to yield on the highway after having stopped, which contributed to the crash, State Patrol said. She took a breathalyzer showing no alcohol in her system, according to reports from responding troopers.
That information is part of a trove of newly-released case files Minnesota State Patrol released late last week, including body camera video, reports, emails, and photos from the scene, which were first reported by right-leaning news website Alpha News. Troopers in their reports detailed an open can of White Claw, which is a hard seltzer, and another open nonalcoholic beverage as evidence, prompting questions and criticism from some Minnesota Republicans.
State Patrol maintains it followed protocol: “This crash was thoroughly and objectively investigated by the State Patrol, including the driving conduct, commercial vehicle inspection, and the details surrounding the White Claw container,” said Col. Matt Langer, the head of Minnesota State Patrol.
State trooper Sabrina Skold described a can of White Claw as “cold to the touch” in her field report. Morgan Assistant Fire Chief Justin Blomeke, a first responder, told Trooper Matthew Gleisner in a follow-up phone call a that it was “cold,” “pretty full” and that he suspected it “had been opened when they were driving out of the parking lot,” according to audio of the conversation.
Blaha said she did not consume any alcohol while at Farmfest and Franzen said she had two White Claws while they were there, according to patrol reports. The state senator told law enforcement the White Claw was empty in her backpack, the report said. A spokesman for Franzen on Tuesday said it was the Cocktail de Fruits, the nonalcoholic beverage, that spilled.
“Reading the full report, reviewing photos, recordings, and dash cam videos, makes it clear law enforcement did their job with professionalism and came to the commonsense conclusion that alcohol played no role in the accident,” Blaha said. “I take safety seriously, and the facts support that.”READ MORE: Project Safe Neighborhoods Launches To Get Guns Off Streets
In an email to WCCO Tuesday afternoon, Redwood County Attorney Jenna Peterson said neither she nor anyone in her office provided any guidance on the citation, specific charges or who should or should not be charged as a result of accident. She said she was initially asked to review the case but then State Patrol said it would issue the citation on its own.
Langer, in a statement through his spokesman, said earlier Tuesday the file was submitted for review by the local prosecutor and the result of that review was a citation issued to the driver for “the driving error that caused the crash.” WCCO sought clarity from State Patrol on charging decisions but has not heard back yet.
In one email included in the case files, Lt. Matthew Sorenson wrote Trooper Gleisner and another trooper, Daniel Walker, on the evening of Aug. 4 and instructed them to not include recommended charges in their reports and instead “only put in the facts, statements and evidence you have.”
“We will compile all the reports and submit a packet to the county attorney for them to review and go off of their recommendation on charges,” Sorenson wrote.
Republican State Sen. Karin Housley questioned the investigation, saying in a statement that the details in the new case files “leave more questions than answers.”
“The public deserves better from their leaders and we have many questions left unaddressed from August that are only now coming to light,” she said. “I think we all deserve to hear directly from Leader Lopez Franzen, Auditor Blaha, and Chairman Martin about what happened.”
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin arrived at the scene and in a conversation captured on a body-camera told one of the troopers that Blaha and Franzen are elected officials.
Franzen in a statement said there was “absolutely no drinking and driving on August 4” and that alcohol did not factor in the accident.
“I am extremely grateful to the first responders who arrived so quickly that day, and for the thorough investigation that brought this matter to a close,” she said.MORE NEWS: Rentable Backyard Beehives All The Buzz As They Bolster Pollinators
Minnesota law bars drinking and possession of an open container of alcohol while a vehicle is on a highway.