By Jennifer Kotila
COKATO, MN Paul Anthony Wickenhauser, 21, of Cokato has been charged with eight felony counts of criminal vehicular operation following an accident in Kandiyohi County that left family members of three generations dead.
The head-on collission occurred Aug. 17 at about 9 p.m. on US Highway 12 near Kandiyohi County Road 127, according to a criminal complaint from the Kandiyohi County Attorney’s Office.
Wickenhauser was driving a 2004 Chevrolet Silverado westbound on Hwy. 12 when he struck a 2001 Chrysler Town and Country minivan traveling eastbound.
The minivan, which was driven by Marta Stoffers, 68, of Atwater, ended up in the north ditch and caught fire, according to the complaint.
Efforts to extricate the adult passengers in the front seats of the minivan were unsuccessful. Both Stoffers and her passenger, Michelle Hoffman, 40, of Eden Prairie died at the scene, according to the complaint.
Another passenger, Julia Hoffman, 8, was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Jason Hoffman, 5, was also in Stoffers’ vehicle and was transported to Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar in critical condition.
When deputies arrived at the scene of the crash, Wickenhauser was pacing back and forth and his hands and arms were shaking violently, according to the complaint.
Wickenhauser informed law enforcement that his vehicle had crossed the center line by about 1 foot, according to the criminal complaint.
He added that the driver of the other vehicle must have thought he was going to continue going into the wrong lane, because they went into his lane, where the vehicles collided when Wickenhauser corrected himself, according to the complaint.
Wickenhauser informed officers he had been drinking that evening, beginning at about 5 p.m. at his home in Cokato.
He consumed about five 12-ounce beers before 7:15 p.m., according to the complaint.
A broken bottle of rum was found on the roadway at the scene of the accident, along with an open bottle of hard liquor in the cab of Wickenhauser’s pickup, and a cooler of beer.
A breathalyzer test performed at the scene of the accident showed a reading of .07, below the legal limit of .08.
However, a blood alcohol test performed at Rice Memorial Hospital and sent to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension showed his blood alcohol concentration as being .09, according to the criminal complaint.
Because of the test results, Wickenhauser faces eight felony counts: three counts of criminal vehicular homicide with negligence, and three counts of causing a death while driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 or more for the deaths of Stoffers and Michelle and Julia Hoffman; and one count of criminal vehicular injury with negligence, and one count of injury at .08 or greater for injuring Jason Hoffman.
Wickenhauser is also charged with open bottle.
Each felony faced by Wickenhauser carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine or five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The open bottle violation is a misdemeanor.
Wickenhauser made his first court appearance Tuesday, where unconditional bail was set at $300,000, and conditional bail was set at $50,000.
Wickenhauser posted bail Wednesday, was released from jail, and is on electronic monitoring.
His next court appearance is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 19 at 9 a.m.