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Two sentenced in criminal vehicular operation cases

An Esko woman who left the scene of an accident after striking and injuring a bicyclist while driving home from church last year received a sentence of 18 months in prison, to be stayed for five years, in Carlton County Court on Wednesday.

Carol Emily Nygren, 70, appeared before Judge Dale Wolf  after pleading guilty to one felony charge of criminal vehicular operation (leaving the scene of an accident). Wolf ordered that Nygren undergo five years of supervised probation, serve 90 days local confinement (with credit for three days already served), undergo a mental health screening, write a letter of apology, pay restitution (yet to be determined), abstain from use of alcohol or controlled substances, undergo random testing, and pay court fees of $660.

According to the criminal complaint filed in the incident, Nygren was driving near Esko on her way home from church the morning of June 16, 2013, when she struck a bicyclist at the corner of Highway 61 and Rolling Acres Road, which threw him onto the hood of her car and into the windshield on the passenger side. Nygren then drove away from the scene of the accident.

Nygren was not located until the day following the accident, at which time she denied responsibility for the incident, though her car appeared to have sustained significant damage. The complaint stated Nygren told authorities she’d been following a truck hauling gravel and that falling rocks had been responsible for the damage. She later pleaded guilty to the incident in Carlton County Court.

The victim, Michael Howard Norton, 44, of Duluth sustained multiple skull fractures from the incident as well as broken bones and internal injuries. He said the internal injuries qualify as “grave bodily harm,” which enhances the degree of severity of the crime. Norton has had to have multiple brain surgeries since the incident and continues to suffer from traumatic brain injury-like symptoms and seizures.

In another felony vehicular operation case heard in Carlton County Court last Monday, Lisa Jo Westendorf, 37, of Cloquet was granted a stay of adjudication and three years of supervised probation after pleading guilty to felony criminal vehicular operation and misdemeanor driving while impaired in the fourth degree. Assistant County Attorney Jesse Berglund explained that since Westendorf has no previous criminal offenses, she will have three years to maintain a clean record. If that happens, said Berglund, the felony offense will be taken off her record and only the DWI offense will remain.

In the criminal complaint filed in the incident, on Aug. 24, 2013, at approximately 5:45 p.m., a Carlton County Sheriff’s deputy responded to a report of an ATV accident on South Finn Road in Automba Township. When the deputy arrived on the scene, he learned from witnesses that the driver of one of the ATVs, identified as Westendorf, began to lose traction and went off the road, causing the ATV to roll over on top of her and her passenger.

The two women were transported to Mercy Hospital in Moose Lake for treatment of their injuries. The deputy spoke with Westendorf at the hospital and she allegedly admitted that she had consumed approximately a six-pack of beer that afternoon. The deputy obtained a search warrant in order to be able to obtain a blood sample, which indicated a blood alcohol content of .14.

The complaint stated that as a result of the accident, Westendorf suffered a right ankle fracture. Her passenger suffered a fracture of the cervical spine and pelvis, which constitutes “substantial bodily harm” in the eyes of the court and heightens the severity of the charges.

Judge Robert Macaulay ordered that Westendorf abstain from use or possession of alcohol or controlled substances, attend DWI clinic, undergo random testing, follow all conditions of her probation agreement, pay $500 in court costs and spend 45 days in the Sentence to Serve program.