Sibley County has reached a settlement with Curtis Petzel, 61, the Arlington man who was charged in connection with the death of two motorcyclists that occurred on June 1, 2019.
Petzel pled guilty to gross misdemeanor reckless driving in Sibley County District Court on Thursday, Nov. 5. In exchange, the county dropped the felony second-degree manslaughter, felony criminal vehicular homicide and misdemeanor careless driving charges. Petzel remains to be sentenced and could face up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine for the charge.
Petzel was pulling a farm trailer when the trailer came loose, drifted into oncoming traffic, and killed a husband and wife on a motorcycle, Marvin and Kathy Fandrich of Aberdeen, S.D.
An investigation revealed numerous safety issues, including the wrong size trailer ball being used, a rusted coupler, the safety chain and cable for connecting trailer brakes were not in use, and the battery box for the breakaway system did not have a battery.
Assistant County Attorney Donald Lannoye explained the reasoning for the settlement agreement in a letter that was sent to the family of the deceased.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was noted as part of the reason to settle, as holding a jury trial puts people at risk of contracting the disease, Lannoye wrote.
Second, there was ample evidence that made it possible Petzel would not meet the threshold for the felonies he was facing at a trial. Petzel’s brother testified at the omnibus hearing that he was the one who placed the ball on the tractor and hooked up the trailer.
Lannoye also shared that criminal vehicular homicide cases involve bad driving conduct and/or the use of alcohol or drugs, none of which were applicable to Petzel.
“This is a novel case in Minnesota,” Lannoye wrote. “Because it is unlike any other case that has come before them, juries or judges might not be inclined to view the defendant’s conduct as gross negligence. Even if a jury finds the defendant guilty, the decision may get overturned at the appellant level.”
The court ordered a pre-sentence investigation and scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 7, 2021, at 2:30 p.m.