A St. Paul woman has been found guilty of careless driving in connection with a 2008 Inver Grove Heights crash that killed three people and left two children injured, one of them seriously.
A Dakota County judge found Brittany Rose Mertz, formerly known as Brittany Rose Krueger, 22, guilty of a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The April 17, 2008, crash on Highway 52 near 117th Street killed Brittany Beth Carlson, 30, of Zumbrota, along with her 2-year-old son Brandon Carlson and 4-year-old Tamaya Phillips of Minneapolis. Carlson’s 9-year-old son suffered multiple broken bones, and another 2-year-old boy in Carlson’s car was also injured.
Mertz was initially charged with three counts of criminal vehicular homicide, and one count of criminal vehicular operation resulting in substantial bodily harm, along with a gross misdemeanor charge of criminal vehicular operation and misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and careless driving.
This week, Dakota County Judge Jerome Abrams acquitted Mertz on all counts except the careless driving misdemeanor.
“It’s disappointing that when someone’s negligence results in the deaths of three people and serious injuries to two people that they can only be sanctioned for a misdemeanor for a defendant’s actions,” Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom wrote in a press release.
Backstrom said he has spent years trying to get the Minnesota Legislature to increase the penalty for negligent driving resulting in death, making it a gross misdemeanor if a felony can’t be proven.
The proposal has died in committee each year, Backstrom said.
“It’s hard to explain to a family that’s lost a loved one under these circumstances that there’s no difference in the penalty for the defendant if they went off the road and struck a mailbox or if they struck and killed a person,” Backstrom said in the press release.
According to the criminal complaint, Mertz’s car was northbound on Hwy. 52 when it crossed the median and collided with Carlson’s car. Brittany Carlson was dead at the scene; Tamaya Phillips died the next day and Brandon Carlson died April 28.
Neither Mertz nor her passenger, Justin Paul Mertz, were seriously injured.
A witness who had been driving behind Mertz’s car told police that he as he approached in the adjoining lane, he saw Justin Mertz show something to Brittany Mertz, and said they might have been passing a camera back and forth.
When Mertz’s car began moving into the witness’s lane, Justin Mertz grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it back into the proper lane, but the car then swerved back across the witness’s lane, across the median and into oncoming traffic, colliding with Carlson’s car.
Mertz told authorities later that once her car veered to the left, she took her hands off the steering wheel and covered her head. Subsequent investigations found no mechanical defects in her car, and no drugs or alcohol in her system.
After Mertz was indicted on the charges, she waived her right to a jury trial, and the case was submitted to Abrams earlier this year.
Mertz will be sentenced Nov. 22 in Dakota County District Court in Hastings.