Witnesses say rest stop hit-and-run appeared intentionalA former Duluth man, charged Friday in the June 19 hit-and-run death of Mahtowa rest stop janitor Greg “Blackie” Blackburn, will be evaluated for both mental deficiency/mental illness and competency to proceed.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
A former Duluth man, charged Friday in the June 19 hit-and-run death of Mahtowa rest stop janitor Greg “Blackie” Blackburn, will be evaluated for both mental deficiency/mental illness and competency to proceed.
At a hearing Wednesday morning, Gregory Allen Scherber, 55, appeared with his newly appointed defense attorney, Kevin Cornwell. Judge Dale Wolf approved Cornwall’s Rule 20 request to have his client evaluated, which could take two to four weeks.
Scherber was charged with criminal vehicular homicide and fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, both felonies, in Carlton County Court. More serious charges could follow based on witness statements that Scherber appeared to run over Blackburn on purpose, Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said.
“I’m still getting discovery from multiple agencies involved in the chase, arrest and investigation,” Pertler told 6th District Judge Robert Macaulay. “There is some indication that the conduct resulting in the death of the individual may have been intentional.”
Pertler said he is still waiting to see all of the witness statements, the accident scene reconstruction and photos and analysis from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension of Scherber’s blood taken after he was apprehended June 19 following a 25-mile police chase that ended with him and his truck in a Hermantown ditch.
The criminal complaint puts Scherber at a Jean Duluth Road address in Duluth, but he said in court that he now lives in Minneapolis.
According to the criminal complaint:
The Minnesota State Patrol was informed of the hit-and-run at the Culkin rest area on northbound Interstate 35 near Mahtowa about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 19. It was shortly after that when Trooper Erick Sjodin — who was in the vicinity of Highway 210 and I-35 — saw a vehicle matching that description traveling fast northbound on I-35. Sjodin chased the vehicle, a blue Ford pickup, at speeds approaching 100 mph in heavy traffic on northbound I-35.
The complaint noted that Sjodin used his lights and siren to attempt to pull over the vehicle, but it continued to flee toward Duluth. When the truck entered the construction zone near the St. Louis County border — where the highway narrows to one lane each way — the truck began passing traffic on the shoulder and hitting barrels and cones as it did so. It then exited the freeway on Boundary Avenue and drove through the city of Proctor, heading westbound on U.S. Highway 2. Other law enforcement agencies assisted and attempted to stop the vehicle, with no success.
Eventually Trooper Michael LeDoux passed Sjodin and was able to make contact and spin the truck out of control at the intersection of Stebner and Arrowhead roads, where it came to rest in a ditch, the complaint said. Troopers immediately exited their squad cars and commanded the driver — later identified as Scherber — to get out of the vehicle. As the officers took Scherber into custody, the report states that he was agitated and yelling obscenities at the troopers, indicating the Native Mob gang was after him and the FBI had hung up on him earlier in the day when he called them regarding his complaints about being followed.
According to the complaint, as the chase unfolded, emergency personnel were on scene at the rest area and confirmed that Blackburn was deceased. Witnesses said the pickup was at one end of the vacant semitrailer parking lot and accelerated rapidly toward the other end of the lot where Blackburn was picking up garbage.
“The defendant’s pickup truck sped through the parking lot and over concrete medians as he approached the victim and ultimately struck the victim,” the complaint stated. “The witnesses reported hearing not only the squealing of the tires as the vehicle accelerated rapidly, but also described the pickup truck thumping as it went over the concrete median separators and ultimately the sound of the defendant’s truck striking the victim.”
According to probation officer Steve Johnson, Scherber’s criminal history includes charges of DWI, theft, disorderly conduct, multiple domestic assault charges, terroristic threats and violation of harassment order.
Pertler requested bail be set at $75,000.
“These [two charges] are serious felonies. And Mr. Scherber has a history of aggressive and violent behavior,” Pertler told the judge before requesting bail be set at $75,000. “I’m concerned about public safety. I’ve seen the chase video. It’s fortunate no one else was hurt or killed.”
Defense attorney Sonia Sturdevant, who represented Scherber at the arraignment Friday, requested a lower amount.
“Mr. Scherber is an honorably discharged Navy veteran,” she said, adding that he is disabled because of mental illness.
Judge Macaulay set bail at $75,000 bond or $7,500 cash.
In court Wednesday morning, Pertler said Scherber was “very animated and agitated.” After speaking to the court at length, according to Pertler, the defendant was escorted from the courtroom by the bailiff.
Scherber’s next hearing is set for Aug. 7 to allow time for the Rule 20 evaluations.