Trial for man charged in DNR officer's death is underway

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 2/24/98.

John Carl Anderson, 35, Paynesville, is facing 13 charges in the death of DNR Officer Gary Westby, New London. They include second-degree manslaughter, criminal vehicular homicide, three charges of causing substantial bodily harm, one aggravated traffic violation, and fleeing an officer.

A jury was selected from a pool of 65 potential jurors on Tuesday, Feb. 17. Opening statements by the prosecution, Will Brost, assistant Stearns County attorney, and by the defense, public defender John Moosbrugger, were given on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Paynesville Police Officer Joe Schmitz was the first witness to be called during the second day of a manslaughter and vehicular homicide trial for Anderson.

Officer Joe Schmitz testified he was only doing his job when his squad car and a van driven by Westby, collided on Highway 23 west of Paynesville, killing Westby and injuring two others in the van.

Schmitz testified he was driving about 65 mph down the gravel road and slowed to between 50 and 60 as he neared the intersection of Roseville Road and Highway 23.

ďI was continuously looking left and right to see if traffic was coming,Ē he said. ďWhen I looked west, I could see the road and nothing appeared to be there. I looked again right at the intersection and made the decision to cross.

The next thing Schmitz said he remembered was regaining conscious-ness in a cornfield just southeast of the intersection. He said he never saw Westbyís van.

In the middle of Brostís questioning of Schmitz, Minnesota State Patrol officer Larry Alstead was brought into the courtroom to play a video tape he had made at the intersection the day after the crash. The video showed an old furniture store, a trailer home, a grove of trees and a hill blocked Schmitz vision of traffic coming from the west on Highway 23. The tape was made at the same time of day as the accident.

On Tuesday afternoon, a Stearns County prosecutor conceded Officer Schmitz could still face criminal charges for his involvement in the crash. The concession came while the jury was out of the courtroom. If charges are filed, it wouldnít be until after the trial.

On the third day of the trial, Feb. 19, Cynthia Westby gave jurors her descrip-tion of the incident. She was sitting sideways in her seat and caught a glimpse of flashing lights on a police car coming from the north. ďI thought he was going on a call and I presumed he was going to stop,Ē she told the jurors.

Three witnesses were called to the stand by Brost in an apparent effort to establish that Anderson had been drinking a few hours before the chase began on the west edge of Paynesville. Only one of the three believed Anderson was drunk that afternoon.

After two days of testimony last week in Stearns County District Court, John Carl Anderson, 35, took the witness stand on Friday. Anderson told the jury he had no more than four beers during the morning and only a wine cooler at supper before Officer Schmitz pursued him in a high-speed chase.

Anderson admitted he ďflooredĒ his El Camino at the start of the chase and hit speeds greater than 100 mph. But the defendant maintained he was not intoxicated at the time.

Anderson said he became ďstressed outĒ when he saw Officer Schmitz following him. His driverís license was revoked and he did not carry his insurance card; he worried about going to jail and losing his job.

The state, which concluded its case on Friday, also called Kandiyohi Sheriffís deputies to testify Anderson appeared intoxicated when they arrested him in a grove of trees shortly after the accident. Officer Randall Kveene said Anderson had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and swayed and bumped into him as they walked to the squad car, following his arrest.

Prosecutor Will Brost also devoted the final testimony to investigator Ovid LeBerge. LeBerge conducted an internal investigation into Officer Schmitzí role in the accident. Under cross examination, LeBerge said there was no evidence that Officer Schmitz used anything but sound judgment in his pursuit of Anderson. His report blames the chase and accident on Anderson.

The trial resumed Feb. 24, with final testimony and closing arguments expected.

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