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Trial in fatal Twin Ponds crash begins Monday

Justen Paul Linskie

A trial is set to get underway Monday for the Superior man accused of fatally striking a pedestrian at Duluth's Twin Ponds last fall.

The trial for Justen Paul Linskie is set to start following several weeks of intense quarreling between attorneys over evidentiary issues. Sixth Judicial District Judge Shaun Floerke also denied a defense motion last week to postpone the trial.

Linskie, 31, is accused of causing the death of Susan LeGarde Menz, a 60-year-old Duluth woman who was photographing fall colors at the popular swimming hole when she was killed on Oct. 13, 2015.

Linskie's vehicle left Skyline Parkway around 6 p.m. that evening, toppling a large boulder along the road and plunging into the water below.

Menz was found in the water by several bystanders who came to her aid and called 911. She was rushed to a hospital and pronounced dead a short time later.

Police said there were no witnesses to the collision itself, but the passersby reported seeing Linskie running from the car, yelling something to the effect of, "You never saw me here."

Linskie is charged with criminal vehicular homicide by leaving the scene of an accident. Under the statute, the state must prove that it was Linskie's vehicle that struck Menz and that he failed to immediately stop and "reasonably investigate what was struck."

In earlier motions, defense attorney Sonia Sturdevant contended that Linskie saw only the boulder and not Menz. She said he fled the scene not because he had struck a pedestrian, but because of the significant damage he had caused to his future mother-in-law's car and the fact that he was missing a drug treatment session.

Floerke, in denying a motion to dismiss the charge in March, wrote: "Whether it was reasonable under the circumstances to take a look around his vehicle and potentially discover Ms. Menz had been knocked into the pond is a factual determination to be considered by a jury."

The lead-up to the trial has turned heated in recent weeks, with defense attorneys arguing that evidence has been withheld and medical examiner opinions altered.

At one point last week, the defense added the case's prosecutor, Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Vicky Wanta, and St. Louis County Auditor Donald Dicklich to its witness list to testify regarding the medical examiner's role. Those subpoenas were later quashed by Floerke.

Also at issue is Linskie's vehicle, which was mistakenly destroyed by authorities several months ago.

"The investigative irregularities, the pattern of discovery violations by the state, and the lack of any definite evidence all require dismissal of these charges," Sturdevant wrote in a letter to Floerke last week, asking the judge to reconsider postponing the trial.

Wanta argued that evidence has been turned over as it has been received and that nothing has been withheld. Floerke largely denied a slew of evidentiary motions brought by the defense, noting that the destruction of the car is "not new information" and that the medical examiner's opinion remains consistent with the initial autopsy report.

A pool of jurors was brought in Friday to fill out questionnaires ahead of the trial, which is expected to get underway with jury selection this morning.

A verdict is expected by the end of the week.