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Attorney: Driver in fatal crash at Twin Ponds didn't see pedestrian

Justen Paul Linskie admitted to crashing his car into Duluth's Twin Ponds and fleeing the scene, but the Superior man was "genuinely surprised" to learn that he was accused of fatally striking a pedestrian in the plunge, his defense attorney said.

2079026+Linskie, Justen Paul mug.jpg
Justen Linskie

Justen Paul Linskie admitted to crashing his car into Duluth's Twin Ponds and fleeing the scene, but the Superior man was "genuinely surprised" to learn that he was accused of fatally striking a pedestrian in the plunge, his defense attorney said.

Linskie, 30, is charged in State District Court in Duluth with criminal vehicular homicide in the Oct. 13 death of 60-year-old Susan "Susie" Elizabeth LeGarde Menz.

Public defender Sonia Sturdevant filed a motion late last week seeking to dismiss the charge, citing a lack of probable cause to indicate that Linskie was aware he struck LeGarde Menz.

Sturdevant said Linskie lost control of his vehicle on Skyline Parkway, leaving the roadway and striking a large boulder. The vehicle flipped and landed several feet below in the larger of the two ponds.

The attorney acknowledged that Linskie fled the scene, but argued that he did so because of the significant damage he caused to his future mother-in-law's car and the fact that he was missing a drug treatment session.

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"It is tragic and senseless that Ms. Menz lost her life, this point is indisputable," Sturdevant wrote. "However it is equally a tragic miscarriage of justice to progress a senseless conviction which is sought in mere retribution for what was an unfortunate accident."

LeGarde Menz was photographing fall colors near the swimming hole when she was killed, according to family members. Reports indicate that she was found floating in the water, and a medical examiner determined that she died from a motor vehicle collision.

Authorities have said that multiple passersby reported seeing a man running from the scene, but there apparently were no eyewitnesses to the crash itself. The defendant allegedly shouted something to the effect of "you never saw me here" as he fled, according to court documents.

Sturdevant contended that photos recovered from LeGarde Menz's camera indicate that she was standing below the level of the roadway and that she would not have been in Linskie's sightline. Further, the attorney said there was no indication from any witnesses that Linskie was aware he struck the pedestrian.

"There is no evidence that Mr. Linskie ever had actual knowledge that the vehicular accident was in any way connected to personal injury or death of another," Sturdevant wrote.

Prosecutors must prove that Linskie caused the death of LeGarde Menz while operating a motor vehicle and that he failed to "reasonably investigate what was struck" or notify law enforcement of the collision. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

St. Louis County prosecutors have until Feb. 26 to submitted arguments in opposition to the defendant's motion for dismissal.

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Vicky Wanta noted at Linskie's October arraignment that he has a substantial history of traffic offenses. He also remains on supervised release after serving a seven-year federal prison sentence for the distribution of methamphetamine.

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LeGarde Menz was a lifelong Duluth resident and one of 14 siblings from a close-knit family. She lived in Piedmont and worked for St. Louis County for many years.

"The victim is a complete stranger to the defendant," Wanta said previously. "She really represents that this could have been anyone in the community that could suffer because of his actions."

The case is assigned to 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Shaun Floerke.

Related Topics: CRIME
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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