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Forum Communications Co., Published June 06 2010

Driver suspected of DUI crashes, kills two in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS – An intoxicated driver who was fleeing the scene of a traffic stop early Saturday morning broadsided a car carrying four young adults, killing two of them and seriously injuring a third, at a Grand Forks intersection, authorities said.

About 1:30 a.m., Officer Matt Beland was on routine patrol when he spotted a mid-90s Chevrolet Lumina heading south on Columbia Road. The black car ran a red light at the intersection with University Avenue, so Beland, who’s with the UND Police Department, pulled the car over just before the Columbia Road overpass.

As Beland came to the driver’s door, the car sped away, up and across the overpass.

UND Chief Duane Czapiewski said Beland pursued the car, which kept south on Columbia. How fast the suspect was driving has not been determined, Czapiewski said.

“We assume he was traveling at a high rate of speed,” he said.

The pursuit ended at Columbia and 17th Avenue South, when the suspect’s car slammed into a Pontiac G6 that was heading east on 17th. The Pontiac, a silver four-door sedan, had the green light, Czapiewski said.

Inside the Pontiac were four young people from Grand Forks.

The fleeing suspect, 24-year-old Celso Garza, had no one else in his vehicle. Garza of East Grand Forks was treated at Altru. He was then taken to the Grand Forks County Correctional Center where he was booked at 6 a.m., a jail spokeswoman said.

Czapiewski said the Pontiac was struck on the driver’s side in the middle toward the rear of the car. After that collision, the suspect’s car spun and hit a third vehicle with two people inside. Those two escaped injury; the car sustained minor damage.

Czapiewski, who also responded to the crash scene, said the Pontiac carrying the four young adults was mangled to the point that authorities could not tell where the victims had been sitting, nor could they tell whether the victims were wearing seatbelts. One person had to be extricated from the car, Czapiewski said.

The four victims worked at the Hugo’s grocery store, across from Altru, near where the crash occurred, store manager Rick Dierker said.

Their co-workers said the 2009 Pontiac belonged to Olson and that she’d just gotten it. They were certain she would have been driving.

Czapiewski said there’s no evidence to suggest the victims had been drinking. He said authorities at the hospital took a blood sample from Garza, which will be analyzed for the presence of drugs and alcohol.

After the crash, marijuana, a pipe, and an open alcoholic beverage were found in Garza’s possession, the chief said.

The Grand Forks Police Department is investigating the crash, and the state Highway Patrol is assisting by analyzing skid marks and trying to determine distances vehicles traveled and their speeds.

State’s Attorney Peter Welte said Garza will face two counts of manslaughter, two counts of reckless endangerment along with charges of driving under the influence, possession of marijuana, possession of a marijuana pipe, having an open alcoholic beverage in a vehicle, driving with a revoked license, disregarding a red light and fleeing a police officer in a vehicle.

Welte said charges would be filed Monday. At 3 p.m. that day, Garza will make his initial appearance in state District Court and have his bail set, he said.

Welte did not know if Garza had an attorney. Messages left at the jail for him were not immediately returned Saturday.

According to the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s website, Garza was convicted of two counts of aggravated robbery in 2004 and sentenced to four years with the state Department of Corrections. At that time, he gave officials a Crookston address.

He was charged with underage drinking twice in 2003. In one case, he had a blood-alcohol level of .19. The legal limit for drivers in Minnesota and North Dakota is .08.

Welte and Czapiewski did not know why Garza’s license had been revoked.