Semi driver gets jail time for crash that killed longtime St. Michael parishioner

by Tim Hennagir

MONTICELLO TIMES

A North Dakota semi driver was sentenced Oct. 26 in Wright County District Court for a winter crash that killed the owner of Monticello-based Hoglund Bus Co.

Judge Stephen Halsey sentenced Lyle Dean Geiselhart, 58, Fargo, to 30 days in jail; previously, Geiselhart faced a maximum of 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both for the misdemeanor traffic charge.

Geiselhart pled guilty to an amended misdemeanor charge of failure to drive with due care and traveling at a speed greater than reasonable for road conditions.

PROBATION

Geiselhart was placed on supervised probation for a year and ordered to participate in a community conference with Holly Hoglund Klein’s family if deemed appropriate by Wright County Court Services.

Prior to the Oct. 26 court date, defense attorney Jolanta Howard had filed a motion to withdraw Geiselhart’s guilty plea.

Howard withdrew that motion just prior to Halsey hearing the case. Wright County prosecuting attorney Shane Simonds previously indicated he was prepared to oppose the motion and argue that sentencing proceed.

Halsey ordered Geiselhart to serve the 30 days in three, 10-day segments, but according to Simonds, if Geiselhart earns good time during his first jail segment, he would serve six actual days because he has credit for a day already served.

“If he [Geiselhart] serves the 30 days in 10-day segments, he does a total of 21 days,” Simonds stated in an post-sentencing email. “If he were to serve his 30 days all together and earns good time, he would serve 20 actual days.”

According to a complaint filed Sept. 11, 2015, on March 3, 2015, shortly after 9 a.m., emergency personnel and the Minnesota State Patrol were dispatched to multiple crashes on Interstate 94 near the Hasty area.

The weather and road conditions were poor and included icy roads, wind, and snow, the complaint stated.

The crash that killed Hoglund Klein and injured others occurred on westbound I-94. Six passenger vehicles were involved.

Geiselhart told the patrol he was hauling a loaded trailer containing fertilizer, and that he had traveled on I-94 many times.

In the complaint, Geiselhart stated he was in the right lane of westbound I-94. Traffic was not heavy but the road conditions were not very good as the roads were slippery, the wind was blowing, and it was snowing. Traffic was slower than normal.

The complaint states prior to the crash, the semi Geiselhart was driving was in the ninth gear, which had a speed range or 40 to 55 miles per hour.

In the complaint, Geiselhart said he saw brake lights ahead of him, and when he applied the brakes the semi tractor-trailer started to skid and slide down the road. The semi then struck multiple vehicles.

INVESTIGATION

As part of a post-crash investigation conducted by the Minnesota State Patrol, a trooper determined that Geiselhart’s log book was not current and that he was restricted to operating commercial vehicles in the state of North Dakota, the complaint stated.

Additional troopers spoke with drivers and witnesses to the March 3 crash, the complaint stated.

Multiple witnesses reported that the semi driven by Geiselhart was traveling too fast for the road conditions before the collision.

The Minnesota State Patrol analyzed data stored in an electronic control module of the semi. That unit monitored and recorded Geiselhart’s speed before the crash.

According to the complaint, the highest recorded speed was 68 mph prior to the crash.

Upon further investigation based on data collected, a state trooper observed that at 12 seconds prior to the crash, Geiselhart’s vehicle was traveling at 66 miles per hour, contrary to the maximum speed that Geiselhart had stated.

The complaint also stated the semi’s first recorded brake application occurred 5 seconds before the vehicle came to a stop.

Witnesses near the crash scene told the Minnesota State Patrol they were driving between 5 and 10 miles per hour before Geiselhart’s semi struck them.

Other drivers involved in the crash received facial injuries, vertebra fractures, a fractured nose, multiple lacerations, vision impairment, neck and back pain and a possible concussion.

Regarding the misdemeanor charges, Simonds previously stated that Geiselhart’s level of driving negligence didn’t reach a felony level.

Simonds explained that Geiselhart’s driving conduct and speed, while too fast or inappropriate for the winter road conditions March 3, didn’t rise to a higher level of gross negligence required for a criminal vehicular operation or homicide charge. That factor created a problem with the case, he added.

‘A LIFE LOST’

“This is a unique and tragic case. A life was lost,” Simonds said during his pre-sentencing remarks Oct. 26. He added that Geiselhart had been driving millions of miles commercially without a crash before March 3, 2015.

Simonds also stated that he had watched dash camera video from a Minnesota State Patrol vehicle that was taken the day of the crash; he mentioned that other drivers stated in court documents that they were slowing to 45 to 50 miles per hour.

“He [Geiselhart] should have been more careful with an 80,000-pound semi,” Simmons said, adding that Nichole Cotter, Clearwater, an accident victim, had stated in a pre-sentencing investigation victim impact statement that her vision had been permanently affected.

“It’s amazing that she is not more severely injured,” Simmons said, also acknowledging that Hoglund Klein’s mother and sister had submitted victim impact statements.

“The wrong decision on the road can mean life or death,” Simmons said before bringing up the two other misdemeanor charges against Geiselhart that were dismissed.

“He did not follow rules that restricted him to driving only in North Dakota and his logbook was not current,” Simmons said. “He did not follow the rules of his job. He drove through Wright County, and was going too fast for the conditions.”

Simmons’ closed his pre-sentencing comments by stating Geiselhart did not intend to harm anyone that day, but needed to be held accountable for the decisions he made in driving.

Howard said Geiselhart was aware of the road condition the day of the crash. “He cleared his mirrors and windshield of ice,” Howard said, adding that Geiselhart had been driving a semi since 1978 and had logged 3.5 million miles during his career without a single accident.

‘NIGHTMARE’

Prior to driving a truck, Geiselhart had been a farmer and worked in the insurance businesses, she said.

“That day is a nightmare for everyone involved,” Howard said. “My client is extremely remorseful [about this accident]. It wakes him up in the middle of the night.” Howard stated in court that Geiselhart showed no evidence of drugs or substance abuse prior to the crash. She did concede that Geiselhart should have driven slower.

She also provided additional background about Geiselhart’s past medical history. “My client fell off of a truck years ago and sustained a traumatic brain injury,” Howard said. “His vision has been affected and he is getting eye injections and care from Sanford Health in Fargo.”

Howard referenced a letter from Geiselhart’s doctor that had been included in court documents. “I don’t see anything in the pre-sentencing investigation that warrants a jail sentence,” she said, adding that house arrest for the misdemeanor charge would be appropriate.

During his court appearance, Geiselhart said that his brain injury occurred 10 years ago and that he was “scraping by” financially because his health care costs were a concern and because he was covering daycare costs for his granddaughter.

Geiselhart told Halsey he was worried about going to jail and would not be able to pay his health care premiums. “I can’t imagine what Holly’s parents are going through,” Geiselhart said, becoming emotional when nearing the end of his court statement.”I don’t know what to say,” he said.

Hoglund Klein graduated in 1989 as the salutatorian from Monticello High School, and went on to graduate with honors from the University of St. Thomas, with a Masters’ Degree in International Management.

After working for several years as an operations manager for the Emerging Markets Division of Cargill, Inc., in 1999, Hoglund Klein returned home to work in the family business.

At the time of her death, Hoglund Klein lived in Maple Grove with her husband, Tom, and three children.

She was an active member within the St. Michael Catholic Church and leader within the Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) program and a strong supporter of family and Catholic education.

Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]