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Dave Roepke, Published January 28 2011

Felony dropped in highway crash: $400,000 of damage done to road

A felony count of property damage against a man who had been accused of causing $400,000 of damage to freshly cured concrete on a Clay County highway last fall was dropped in a plea deal on Thursday.

Austin David Nieland, 22, of St. Cloud, Minn., pleaded guilty in Clay County District Court to fourth-degree driving while intoxicated and was sentenced to two years of probation and a 90-day suspended jail term.

Authorities had accused Nieland of driving a pickup on a stretch of Highway 52 closed for construction on Sept. 25, just hours after a patch of concrete had been cured, court records state.

In a hearing that was to be held Thursday, Nieland was planning to contest the felony property damage charge, arguing the state couldn’t prove he intended to damage the road, said his attorney, Zenas Baer.

Baer said Nieland was also set to argue in favor of suppressing statements he made to police at the time of his arrest on grounds he hadn’t been warned of his Miranda rights.

The evidentiary hearing didn’t happen, Baer said.

Instead, Clay County prosecutors agreed to the plea deal, also dismissing two other misdemeanors: failing to notify police of an accident and colliding with an unattended vehicle.

Neiland struck a paving machine after entering the construction area at 100th Avenue South by moving a barricade, deputies alleged in court records. He told authorities he was drinking at a bar in south Moorhead earlier in the evening.

His mother said Nieland had to have surgery on his left hand and suffered a concussion in the accident.

In the complaint against Nieland, officials alleged it would cost at least $100,000 to repair the portion of the highway damaged. County officials later said it cost roughly $400,000 to fix the road, Baer said Thursday.

There was no restitution ordered, and Baer said he couldn’t say whether Nie­land might face a civil lawsuit for the road damages.

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