Border Patrol Officer to be charged in Petersen death

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Border Patrol Officer to be charged in Petersen death

Postby bwca » Thu May 01, 2008 10:39 pm

Border Patrol Officer to be charged in Petersen death
Cook County Attorney's Office press release
The Grand Jury was recently convened in Cook County at the request of Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell to consider issues related to the death of Dr. Kenneth Millard Petersen, age 67. An oncoming vehicle killed Dr. Petersen while he was attempting to remove a downfallen tree from the Gunflint trail approximately 8 to 9 miles outside of Grand Marais in Cook County, Minnesota. The fatal accident occurred at approximately 9:00 p.m. on October 31, 2007. The driver of the vehicle was Maranda Marie Weber, age 27, a U.S. Border Patrol Officer working from the Border Patrol Office in Grand Marais. Ms. Weber was believed to be on duty when the accident occurred.
The County Attorney acted as legal adviser to the Grand Jury, which considered three potential charges, including: (1) Felony Criminal Vehicular Homicide, (2) Misdemeanor Careless Driving, and (3) Misdemeanor Failure to Drive with Due Care. The Grand Jury found probably cause to indict Ms. Weber on the two misdemeanor counts but not on the Felony count. Ms Weber's attorney has been informed of these two charges, and she will appear before the Court within the next two weeks for arraignment.
The Grand Jury, which has significant power under Minnesota law to review potential criminal charges, has not been convened in Cook County for many years. Grand Jury procedure is controlled by Minnesota statute, which requires that each panel consist of no less than 16 members and no more than 23 members. Any indictment entered by the Grand Jury must be supported by at least 12 panel members. The Grand Jury took testimony regarding the death of Dr. Petersen over a period of several hours and then conducted a significant period of deliberation before making the decision to indict Ms. Weber for Careless Driving and Failure to Drive with Due Care. Prosecution will be handled by the Cook County Attorney's Office.
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Postby PaddlerJimmy » Sun Jul 13, 2008 9:30 am

Outrage builds after Gunflint Trail death
By LARRY OAKES, Star Tribune

July 13, 2008

GUNFLINT TRAIL - On a windy night in October, Ken Petersen was on his way home from church choir practice in Grand Marais when a tree that had fallen across the Gunflint Trail blocked his path.

The 67-year-old doctor pulled to the side of the road and left his lights on. A neighbor and fellow choir member in another car did the same. Like many of the remote trail's residents, Petersen had a chainsaw in his vehicle.

He yanked the cord, gunned the saw's motor and went to work. A few seconds later, he was dead.

An SUV coming from the other direction hit the tree at about 50 mph, bounced over it and struck Petersen, inflicting massive injuries. Petersen's many friends on the trail were at a loss to explain his death: It's not uncommon to see a driver stopped to clear a tree along the road, and the section of the road where the accident happened was a straightaway. What's more, visibility was good that night, so there should have been plenty of time to stop.

Then they learned that the SUV's driver was a U.S. Border Patrol agent, and for many, incomprehension turned to outrage.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the ranks of the Border Patrol have swelled nationwide, even along the relatively quiet U.S.-Canada border. The Grand Marais office has grown from two agents to about 15.

Decades of close federal oversight of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest had already left a legacy of resentment toward federal agencies among some residents, and the growth of the Border Patrol presence became the latest irritant.

Not only were Border Patrol vehicles seemingly ubiquitous, but too often they seemed to be speeding, according several of the trail's lodge owners, outfitters and residents.

"You'd come across them in the ditch, and before Ken was killed one of them killed two baby moose in a reduced-speed zone," said Ted Young, owner of Poplar Creek Guesthouse and Boundary Country Trekking. "It was like they didn't know how to drive. And they weren't very friendly."

'Federal "X-File" stuff'

In April, a Cook County grand jury -- the first to be empaneled in many years -- indicted Border Patrol agent Maranda Weber, 27, on misdemeanor charges of careless and inattentive driving.

But then Weber, who was transferred to Grand Forks, N.D., after the accident, refused to appear on those charges. Instead, through an attorney, she's claimed immunity as a federal officer and is trying to transfer the case to U.S. District Court, saying she wouldn't be treated fairly in Cook County because of hostility toward the Border Patrol.

Cook County Attorney Timothy Scannell says the county has no plans to back down, and he'll ask a judge to issue a warrant for Weber's arrest if necessary.

"I'm not the prosecutor from hell trying to ruin her life," Scannell said. "From what I hear, she's young, bright, energetic -- no slouch.

"But somebody ran somebody over and killed him, and I don't like all this federal 'X-File' stuff. It doesn't smell right. It doesn't feel right."

New information revealed last week by Scannell seems unlikely to soothe the community's wrath.

Scannell said that Weber refused to be interviewed or appear before the grand jury and that the agency refused to provide such basic information as how many hours she'd worked prior to the 9 p.m. accident.

The Border Patrol also refused to comment for this story, citing policy and the pending status of the case. Weber's attorney, DeWayne Johnston of Grand Forks, said neither he nor his client would comment. Weber, now in a recruiting division in Grand Forks, also did not respond to e-mailed questions.

Didn't swerve, brake or slow

Fortunately for the investigation, Scannell said, the SUV had a factory computer with a so-called "black box" feature that recorded key readings from the vehicle in the seconds before impact. Scannell said the computer showed the SUV did not swerve, brake or slow before hitting the tree and Petersen.

He added that measurements taken from the scene indicated that Weber would have had a clear line of sight to the other cars' headlights for more than 900 feet, giving her, at her recorded speed of about 50 mph [about 74 feet per second], at least 12 seconds to react. Tables developed by vehicle and traffic engineers say the stopping distance for a vehicle going 50 mph is less than 230 feet, with reaction time included.

No alcohol or drugs were found in a blood sample taken from Weber after the accident.

Why she did not react is a mystery.

"I don't know if we'll ever understand because we didn't get her side of the story," County Sheriff Mark Falk said.

Trying to build ties

Falk said the case is a "frustrating" departure from the otherwise good working relationship between his department and Border Patrol.

"They've been very helpful in backing us up in dangerous situations, and they're always ready to help in emergencies, directing traffic or whatever we need," Falk said.

"As local officers, we have to be very accountable to the public," Falk said. "But with them, there are all these big secrets. There seems to be a lack of public accountability."

He said he met Weber once and found her "personable and professional."

In March, Gunflint Trail business owners invited some Border Patrol agents to meet with them, clear the air and try to establish some trust, said Luana Brandt, an outfitter, lodge owner and president of the Gunflint Trail Association.

Brandt said the local agents had to get permission from their superiors outside the state even to meet with them, but seemed eager to do so. "I think they recognize they have an image problem," Brandt said.

She said the meeting started a helpful dialogue. At the association's urging, agents began visiting lodges, outfitters and residents, in an effort to get to know them personally.

"We didn't understand why they weren't trained to do that already," Brandt said. "I mean, they're up here looking for people who don't fit in. Who better than the locals to tell them?"

Larry Oakes • 612-269-0504
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Re: Border Patrol Officer to be charged in Petersen death

Postby bwca » Wed Oct 29, 2008 10:14 pm

My last two trips up I met a border patrol vehicle driving too fast on Gunflint and on Arrowhead - both times straddling the middle and not moving over while passing me.
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Re: Border Patrol Officer to be charged in Petersen death

Postby PaddlerJimmy » Wed Dec 17, 2008 12:40 pm

Border Patrol agent must return to face charges in fatal Gunflint Trail crash
A U.S. Border Patrol agent whose vehicle struck and killed a man on the Gunflint Trail is not entitled to immunity from local prosecution, a federal judge ruled this morning.

By Larry Oakes , Star Tribune

Last update: December 17, 2008 - 11:30 AM



DULUTH -- A U.S. Border Patrol agent whose vehicle struck and killed a man on the Gunflint Trail is not entitled to immunity from local prosecution, a federal judge ruled this morning.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Tunheim means that Agent Maranda Weber must return to Cook County to face misdemeanor charges brought against her in connection with the Oct. 31, 2007, accident.

A Border Patrol SUV that Weber was driving that night struck Kenneth Petersen, 67, as he chainsawed a tree that had fallen onto the road. Weber told authorities that Petersen's headlights and those of another car that had stopped prevented her from seeing him or the tree in time.


A Cook County grand jury indicted Weber in April on misdemeanor charges of careless and inattentive driving. But she refused to appear in court there, instead filing a motion to have the case moved to U.S. District Court.

Her attorney argued that she was immune from prosecution in state court because she was on duty, was not at fault, and can't get fair treatment in Cook County because of animosity there toward the Border Patrol.


But Tunheim ruled that those reasons aren't enough to justify removal of her case under federal law.


"While the evidence [of Weber's guilt] here is thin, Weber was undisputedly involved in an unusual, fatal accident," Tunheim wrote.

Furthermore, he wrote, Weber has not produced evidence that alleged hostility toward the Border Patrol "infected the decision-making of the state's prosecutors." But, he added that such alleged hostility would be relevant to whether she should be tried in Cook County, should the case proceed that far.
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Re: Border Patrol Officer to be charged in Petersen death

Postby bwca » Tue Dec 30, 2008 3:32 pm

Weber case stays in county
Jane Howard, Cook County News Herald, 12/27/08
After a hearing in Duluth on December 9, 2008, federal court Judge John R. Tunheim denied the request of Maranda Weber’s attorney to remove her case to federal court. The case will remain under the jurisdiction of the state’s district court in Cook County.
Weber, a Border Patrol agent, was charged last spring with misdemeanor careless driving and failure to drive with due care after the Border Patrol vehicle she was driving while on duty struck and killed Gunflint Trail resident Ken Petersen. Petersen had been attempting to remove a downed tree from the Gunflint Trail on the evening of October 31, 2007.
At the December 9 hearing, County Attorney Tim Scannell argued for the case to be tried in Cook County. “We’re glad that we’re through that process,” he said after the judge had issued his ruling.
The case will not necessarily result in a jury trial. If it does come to trial, however, Scannell anticipates the possibility of discussions regarding a change of venue—moving the trial to a different county—although it would still be a Cook County case.
The last Cook County 2008 court date was December 18. The Weber case is likely to be heard in Cook County early in 2009. After receiving notice from federal court, Cook County court administration will put it on the court schedule.
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