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Man charged with felony after sledding incident

sledding accident, owatonna, mn,
Kay Fate, Staff Writer

An Owatonna man has been charged with a felony after what he called a “sledding” incident seriously injured a 16-year-old.

Jeremiah Hunter Wencl, 21, faces one count of criminal vehicular operation-substantial bodily harm. He is expected to make his first appearance in Steele County District Court on May 30.

The charge stems from an incident on Jan. 12, when EMS was called about 9:45 p.m. for a report of a crash near the intersection of Havana Road and County Highway 80, which becomes School Street inside the city limits.

The initial call said an ambulance was needed for someone who fell off a sled that was being pulled by a car. The teenager was unconscious, but breathing.

As a deputy was responding to the rural scene, dispatch relayed that the vehicle was now driving to Van Buren Avenue in Owatonna.

When the officer arrived at the residence, the teenager was being loaded into the ambulance; Wencl and two others were standing outside.

According to the criminal complaint, Wencl told the deputy he had been driving “over there in the country,” and that the victim “fell out in the road … and must have hit his head or something.”

Wencl said the four of them had mutually decided to use his car to pull a small plastic sled used in ice fishing, court documents say. There was a winter storm in the area at the time.

He initially said the sled was on the road, the deputy’s report says, but later said the “sledding” occurred in the ditch.

Wencl allegedly said he was driving about 30 mph, and had been pulling the 16-year-old on the sled when he “felt there was no weight in the sled.”

He and the other two passengers found the victim in the ditch and pulled him out, then drove to Wencl’s home “as fast as (they) could,” the complaint says.

According to a GoFundMe account set up for the injured teenager, he sustained a fractured skull, ribs and vertebrae, as well as a bruised liver and kidney. He was in the ICU for weeks, and spent several days in a coma as his brain healed.

The criminal charge against Wencl carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.

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