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Dave Roepke, Published October 08 2010

Felony filed in road-wrecking crash

A 21-year-old accused of driving through a patch of freshly cured concrete on Clay County Highway 52 faces a felony charge.

Austin David Nieland of St. Cloud, Minn., is charged in Clay County District Court with first-degree criminal damage to property.

Nieland also faces a trio of misdemeanors: driving while intoxicated, colliding with an unattended vehicle and failing to notify police of an accident.

Clay County authorities allege in a court complaint that Nieland was found in a trailer in a rural area near Sabin, Minn., on Sept. 25 around 1 a.m. He had sustained several injuries to his head and left hand, but he told deputies he couldn’t recall anything after he left a bar in south Moorhead.

Nieland was transported to Fargo’s Essentia Health for treatment.

Helen Maleska, Nieland’s mother, said her son had a concussion and had to have surgery on his hand.

“He’s lucky he lived, to be honest with you,” she said.

About 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 25, deputies were called to a Highway 52 construction zone because a pickup suspected to have been driven by Nieland had crashed into a paving machine, deputies allege.

Deputies had looked for a crashed vehicle after first finding Nieland, but they didn’t find anything. When the truck was discovered, they went to Essentia to take a blood sample from Nieland, court records state.

Investigators allege in the complaint that Nieland moved a barricade to enter the construction area at 100th Avenue South and drove north, damaging the new concrete.

Maleska said her son told her he didn’t drink enough to affect his driving, and he doesn’t remember moving a barricade. She said it was raining heavily at the time of the crash.

“It’s very possible he just couldn’t see and got into an accident,” she said.

It hasn’t been determined how much it will cost to fix the road. The contractor has estimated the fix will run $200,000 or more. In court records, Assistant Clay County Engineer Nathan Gannon said it will be at least $100,000.

Concrete samples are being tested to find out the extent of the damage, and an updated estimate could be ready as soon as today, Gannon said.

Nieland’s first court date is set for Oct. 14.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535