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Medical examiner releases body of accident victim

The repercussions of a fatal car crash in Cloquet Tuesday morning continued to resound in the hours that followed the tragedy. Autumn Martineau, 24, of Cloquet was killed in the two-car collision, which occurred at approximately 10:15 a.m., befor...

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Taysha Martineau (second from left) is comforted by friends and family Wednesday morning at a protest outside the Carlton County Attorney’s office. Martineau’s sister, Autumn, was killed in a car accident on Tuesday and the medical examiner had ordered an autopsy of her body, which family members say is against their spiritual beliefs. Wendy Johnson/wjohnson@pinejournal.com

The repercussions of a fatal car crash in Cloquet Tuesday morning continued to resound in the hours that followed the tragedy.

Autumn Martineau, 24, of Cloquet was killed in the two-car collision, which occurred at approximately 10:15 a.m., before the day’s snowfall got underway. The Minnesota State Patrol report indicated the roads were dry at the time of the accident.

The collision occurred as Shawn M. Adrian, 33, of Cloquet attempted to turn from Highway 33 on to Interstate 35, the Minnesota State Patrol reported. His car, a 1996 Toyota Camry, was broadsided by a 2008 Chevrolet Suburban, driven by Grant G. Lindemer, 56, of Forest Lake. Martineau was a passenger in Adrian’s vehicle.

Adrian suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the accident and the State Patrol indicated that Lindemer had “no apparent injuries.”

The vehicle Lindemer was driving contained six members of the Forest Lake Area High School alpine ski team, who were on their way to the state meet at Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik. The young people, all of whom were wearing their seatbelts, were all taken to Community Memorial Hospital to be checked over for injuries said Aaron Forsythe, the Forest Lake district’s athletic director, as reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The team’s assistant coach drove a second Suburban with two other skiers. That vehicle was not involved in the crash.

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Forsythe said he drove to Biwabik on Tuesday so that he could meet with the team after the crash.

The team was scheduled to race as planned on Wednesday.

In the meantime, an ebb and flow of friends and members of Martineau’s family  filled the lobby of the Carlton County Attorney’s Office on Wednesday morning, protesting plans by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office to conduct an autopsy on Martineau’s body in the wake of the accident.

Family members and Band officials said her body was taken to Hibbing, where the county medical examiner planned to perform the autopsy, despite objections of family members who are seeking a traditional funeral process that requires the body to remain intact, according to the beliefs of their Midewin religion.

The incident came just days after the medical examiner sought to perform an autopsy on 65-year-old Mushkoob Aubid, who was killed in a crash near Cromwell over the weekend. Aubid's family also said an autopsy would be a violation of their cultural beliefs.

“We’re just really at a loss here,” Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver said late in the day on Tuesday. “I’m thinking they would’ve learned some cultural competency in having to deal with the Aubid family.”

The Martineau autopsy was put on hold Tuesday evening, as band attorneys were able to secure an order from Sixth Judicial District Judge Robert Macaulay, who also had intervened in the Aubid case.

As Fond du Lac Band members spoke to each other in subdued voices outside the County Attorney’s Office on Wednesday, Martineau’s aunt, Lynn Olson, offered an update after checking on the progress of the private meeting between Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler, Sheriff Kelly Lake, Medical Examiner Thomas Uncini, a representative of the State Patrol, Fond du Lac Band Chairwoman Karen Diver, Reservation Business Committee member Kevin Dupuis and attorneys for the Fond du Lac Band.

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“Karen (Diver) did threaten a big fight. She put up a good threat,” said Olson. “She told them if that body is not released today, if the family cannot get this young lady back, there’s going to be hell to pay in the Ojibwe nation. They’ve had people from Wall Street and people from tribes across the nation who are getting involved in it now. They said that this has to stop.”

“It’s very touchy in there right now,” Olson added. “It’s very emotional.”

As they waited, the family members and friends visited in small groups throughout the room.

“I’m Midewin, and that’s my niece,” said Roxanne Delilo, referring to Martineau. “She should be home. Someone should be with her already. According to our practice, the body is not supposed to be left alone, and she’s been left alone. We have a huge population of our people - how do [the authorities] not know that? If you come in to serve this community, you should be culturally competent. You should understand what our practices are. Having this happen twice within such a short time - first Aubid and then my niece - is not acceptable.”

Taysha Martineau, Autumn’s sister, said, “I miss my sister. I just feel really low. This just happened to another portion of our family (Aubid), and now this.”

She added that Autumn and Adrian had a year-and-a-half-old son together.

“I feel like our rights and beliefs have been violated,” said Kailey Diver.

“You hear about this sort of thing happening in other areas of the country,” added Mary Diver, “but they handle it and it goes the right way.”

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After a lengthy meeting, a compromise was finally reached later in the morning on Wednesday, with all parties agreeing that the medical examiner’s office would conduct an MRI on Autumn Martineau’s body but they would do nothing that would open up the body, such as an autopsy.

The family and Band representatives indicated afterward that they were pleased with the agreement but were still very upset about the entire process. The family expected to have Martineau’s body back by later in the day on Wednesday.

Though Uncini said he is unable to discuss specific cases, he told the Duluth News Tribune on Tuesday that he generally conducts an autopsy on any person killed in a traffic collision or any traumatic event. He said it is important to determine the cause of death and record accurate statistics.

“This is, unfortunately, somewhat of an unavoidable tension between religious rights and legal issues and safety issues,” Uncini said. “It’s a difficult situation; it always is when grief is involved, but it is even more so when religious practices are involved and they come up against legal issues.”

Uncini added that although it is standard to perform autopsies with crash victims to determine an official cause of death, he has occasionally withheld from doing so to accommodate the wishes of families. He said it is even more important when there are multiple vehicles involved in a crash.

“Nowadays, with the potential for vehicular homicide charges, it becomes really important to document injuries and to do autopsies to prove if the person indeed died from the crash,” Uncini said.

Uncini said it’s important to perform autopsies in order to document deaths and provide accurate statistics for medical and governmental purposes.

“Those statistics are used to allocate resources throughout county and state,” he said. “I feel pretty strongly about the need to do that part of job. Unfortunately, that sometimes clashes with personal values or religious values.”

The St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s office recently took over responsibilities to serve Carlton County Jan. 1, after long-time county coroner Dr. Ricard Puumala decided to step down and no one came forward to file for the position. The county now contracts for those services through St. Louis County.

Puumala stated in an interview on Wednesday that conducting an autopsy on accident victims or victims of alleged foul play is “almost mandatory.”

“It’s a legal thing - if a case ended up going to court for some reason or foul play is suspected, we would otherwise be asked why we didn’t order an autopsy.”

Puumala said in his 40 years of service, he couldn’t recall a time when someone refused to allow him to order an autopsy, though he admitted that sometimes a judgement call becomes necessary.

“A lot of times in the case of an accident,” he said, “we don’t order an autopsy but instead take blood for analysis, to find out what they may have had in their system at the time of the accident.”

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s accident, which happened at a site where many other accidents have occurred over the years, at least one Cloquet citizen is trying to do something about it. Amy Louhela has started a petition asking the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to do something to make the intersection of I-33 and Highway 33 safer.

“Another person lost their life at this intersection today and this needs to stop,” Louhela wrote in her appeal to MnDOT on Tuesday. “We don’t need anymore crosses at this intersection. This intersection needs to be made safe! Even though I have not lost anyone at this intersection, a few years ago my mom was also almost killed when a girl ran the stop sign here. We need to implement a plan to make this intersection safer ASAP!”

As of midday Wednesday, 356 had already signed the electronic petition, which can be found at: change.org.

Related Topics: CARLTON COUNTY
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