Charges: Willow River man intentionally drove into Kettle River in incident that killed passenger

The driver, who is now facing two counts of criminal vehicular homicide, said he didn't realize the river was so deep.

Prokasky, Preston.jpg
Preston Prokasky (Pine County Jail photo)
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A Willow River man allegedly told police he intentionally drove his vehicle into the Kettle River, believing he could make it across safely, before the car began to sink with a passenger trapped inside.

Preston Paul Prokasky, 43, also admitted to using methamphetamine prior to the Monday incident that killed 47-year-old Eugene Oestreich, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday.

Prokasky was arraigned in State District Court in Pine City on two felony counts of criminal vehicular operation in connection with Oestreich's death. Judge Krista Martin set bail at $50,000 with conditions or $250,000 without.

According to the complaint:

Pine County deputies were dispatched to the area of 80124 River Run Road in Willow River at 3:48 p.m. on a report of a vehicle having gone into the Kettle River. When the first deputy arrived, no vehicle was visible, but two men with wet clothing were found along the shore.


Prokasky told the deputy he was driving his 2004 Ford Escape with Oestreich in the front seat and another passenger, 48-year-old Gerald Darkow, in the back, when he decided to drive across the river. He showed the officer the location where he drove in.

"Prokasky said he did not know the river was so deep and (thought) they could make it across," the complaint states. "When they started to sink he climbed out the driver's side window. Darkow climbed out the window after him. Mr. Oestreich did not make it out of the car."

Darkow told deputies they had been at Prokasky's residence immediately prior to the incident. Darkow said Prokasky told them he was going to drive across the river and that he ignored his request to be let out of the vehicle. After they started to float, Prokasky and Darkow were able to escape, but never saw Oestreich again.

An investigator followed up with Prokasky, who stated they had been in the Rutledge area prior to the incident and that it was his idea to drive across the river. He said they were on the shore for approximately 20-30 minutes before he drove into the water. He said Oestreich couldn't swim and rolled up his window as they went in.

The investigator asked Prokasky what they had been doing prior to the incident, but he would not provide a detailed answer, saying they had been "on a wild goose chase." Prokasky said Oestreich was a friend who had been living with him up until the previous night, when he kicked him out.

Prokasky further admitted to using meth with his two friends earlier in the day. A blood sample was taken, pursuant to a search warrant, and sent to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for analysis.

The Ford Escape was eventually located in approximately 14 feet of water, with Oestreich's body still inside. The Midwest Medical Examiner's Office cited drowning as the cause of death.

Deputies noted a gate off Willow Street which should have been locked was not. Tire tracks were visible in sand, with indications that the vehicle's tires had spun.


"There was not a natural path into the river as there was a sharp drop off between the sandy area and the water," the complaint notes. "There had been significant rain in recent weeks. The water current was visible and the bottom of the river was not."

The two vehicular homicide charges allege Prokasky caused Oestreich's death by operating a vehicle in a "grossly negligent manner" and while under the influence of a Schedule I or II controlled substance.

Prokasky has multiple prior convictions related to driving while intoxicated, among other traffic offenses.

He is scheduled to be back in court Tuesday.

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
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