Settlement reached in civil suit involving NUPD officer in 2011 fatal crash
NEW ULM – Settlement negotiations concluded at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a civil lawsuit involving a New Ulm Police officer and the City of New Ulm regarding a July 8, 2011 accident that took the lives of an 82-year-old New Ulm woman and a 60-year-old Mankato man.
New Ulm City Attorney Hugh Nierengarten and City Manager Brian Gramentz said they could not comment on settlement terms, which are subject to approval by the District Court.
A spokesperson in the Brown County Court Administration office said the case file will be reviewed by the Court by April 20. Nierengarten said he knew of no reason why the settlement terms would not be made public after the case is approved by the District Court.
The crash occurred at 1:40 p.m. on North Garden Street, near the intersection of 10th North Street, near Garden Terrace Apartments. The accident happened as a 1994 Mercury Sable was northbound on Garden when it turned left into a driveway and collided with a southbound Ford Crown Victoria New Ulm squad car, driven by Matt Rasmussen, according to a State Patrol release.
The squad car hit the passenger side door of the Sable driven by Myra Meyer of New Ulm. Her son Brian Wichmann of Mankato was a passenger.
Wichmann was taken to New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC), where he was pronounced dead. Meyer was flown to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) where she died of injuries on July 19, 2011.
Rasmussen, 31, was treated to non-life-threatening injuries at NUMC. He returned to full-time police duty in September 2011.
A State Patrol report stated that prior to the crash, Rasmussen was following a suspect in a speeding vehicle. Both vehicles had major damage.
Redwood County Attorney Steve Collins took over the State Patrol report as a special assistant prosecutor for Brown County to prevent conflict of interest. He began reviewing the case in September 2011 before passing it to a Brown County grand jury two months later to determine if any charges would be brought against the officer.
Collins said the accident report included hundreds of pages and photographs plus a video of the crash. The report estimated Rasmussen was traveling at 72 mph when he applied brakes and that he was traveling at 60 mph when he hit Meyer’s car.
The report stated that Rasmussen turned on his flashing lights but turned them off after passing cars between himself and Meyer’s car, according to witnesses.
In an interview with an investigator, Rasmussen said he didn’t remember turning off his flashing lights.
According to Minnesota Statute 169.03, Subdivision 5, no emergency vehicle driver shall assume any special privileges, except when responding to an emergency call or when in immediate pursuit of an actual or suspect law violator.
Minnesota Statute 169.17 reads that speed limits do not apply to emergency vehicles responding to an emergency call. Law enforcement vehicles are required to have an audible signal siren or display at least one red light. Emergency vehicles are not relieved of driving with due regard for the safety of others on the street nor are the drivers protected from reckless disregard for the safety of others.
The Brown County grand jury returned a “no bill,” (no indictments) decision on charges related to the State Patrol crash investigation. Collins said the grand jury reviewed all potential felonies and misdemeanor charges that could be applied in the case and found no probable cause for any of them.
Grand juries only determine if there is evidence for charges and are legally sworn to secrecy. Their proceedings cannot be disclosed to the public.
Early last year, the family of the two people that died in the 2011 accident filed a civil suit against Rasmussen and the City of New Ulm. The family was represented by Schwebel, Goetz and Sieben attorney James Schwebel.
Rasmussen and the City of New Ulm were represented by League of Minnesota Cities Attorney Peter Regnier. Neither Schwebel nor Regnier returned phone calls Wednesday.
New Ulm Police Chief Myron Wieland declined comment on the settlement.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com).