A distant video camera, a paint chip and fibers were enough for Hermantown police investigators to track down a suspect in the Dec. 30 hit-and-run accident that killed a Hermantown man walking across Arrowhead Road to get his morning newspaper.
Hermantown police said Wednesday they conducted a search warrant Monday at a Hermantown home with officers of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and found the truck they believe struck 84-year-old Laurence Sundquist just before 5 a.m. last Thursday.
Police said they believe a resident of the home where the search was conducted was the driver of the truck at the time of the accident.
Investigators still don't have an eyewitness, the suspect was not taken into custody and no charges have been filed.
But Hermantown Deputy Police Chief Shawn Padden told the News Tribune that investigators believe they have the right person and right vehicle and that they have "begun to bring some closure to this tragedy for the (Sundquist) family.''
For several days it appeared there were no witnesses and few clues to the accident that occurred on a dark stretch of road on a drizzly, foggy morning well before sunrise.
"The break we got was a video camera that pretty well shows which vehicles were driving on that stretch of road at that time,'' Padden said. He declined to say where the stationary surveillance camera was located.
"I'm not going to narc the camera location,'' he said.
Padden said the video evidence appears to show Sundquist was left injured and alone on the road for about three minutes before another passing motorist discovered him and called 911. Sundquist was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Essentia St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth.
Padden said investigators used old-
fashioned detective work, asking around town to find out who in the area owned a truck like the one on the video -- a fairly specialized truck used in road maintenance.
But investigators also used some intensive evidence recovery techniques to recover a less-than-one-inch paint chip and some fibers at the scene of the accident.
When police executed the search warrant at the home, they retrieved paint and fiber samples from the vehicle at the residence, Padden said.
Police said the suspect at first cooperated but then stopped. Police now are waiting for test results on the paint from the crime laboratory of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
"We believe we have all the evidence there was available, and all we need, to pass this case on to the county attorney," Padden said. "But we first have to wait for the BCA lab ... and that could take months.''
Until then, it's not clear if or when charges might be filed. Padden declined to say what charges are being considered, but said fleeing the scene of a fatal accident is one likely option.
"It really hinges a lot on what they did right after the accident ... and what they did after they knew we were looking for them,'' Padden said.
Padden said there is no indication that alcohol or drugs were involved.
Police still are asking anyone who may have been walking, jogging or driving in the area of the 5100 block of Arrowhead Road between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. Dec. 30 to contact them at (218) 729-1200.
Sundquist was making his usual morning trek to the newspaper box across the road from his driveway. He was wearing dark clothing and had a flashlight, but not a light that could be seen from all angles.
"We really want people who are going to be out walking on any road to wear some reflective clothing or have a light that can be seen 360 degrees,'' Padden said.
Sundquist, a lifelong Hermantown resident, grew up on a farm at that location on Arrowhead Road and later built a home there. He was a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II and a longtime employee of Minnesota Power, retiring in 1981. His funeral was held Tuesday.
It's the second fatal hit-and-run case in the Upper Midwest in recent days solved with forensic work using paint chips. Police in Mequon, Wis., used paint chip evidence to find a vehicle and its driver that struck and killed an elderly couple along a rural road on Sunday night. The driver left the scene, and there were no witnesses, but investigators used a paint chip at the scene to determine the vehicle was a black 2001 Chevrolet Blazer.
Police were able to find the owner of such a vehicle who lived near the accident and obtained a search warrant to check his house. The driver, a 35-year-old Brown Deer Wis., man, was charged Wednesday with two counts of negligent operation of a vehicle and two counts of hit and run resulting in death.