Medical examiner challenged in fatal Twin Ponds crash trial

A medical examiner testified Tuesday that a 60-year-old Duluth woman "most likely" died as the result of being struck by a car last fall at the city's Twin Ponds area, but left open the possibility that her injuries were sustained another way.

Justen Paul Linskie

A medical examiner testified Tuesday that a 60-year-old Duluth woman "most likely" died as the result of being struck by a car last fall at the city's Twin Ponds area, but left open the possibility that her injuries were sustained another way.

Dr. Michael Madsen of the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office performed the autopsy on Susan LeGarde Menz, who died Oct. 13, 2015, after being pulled from the water at the popular swimming hole.

Madsen told jurors that Menz died from cardiopulmonary arrest due to multiple blunt-force injuries and cold-water immersion. The death was ruled an accident, most likely due to a pedestrian car crash.

At the trial for Justen Paul Linskie, the 31-year-old Superior man accused of striking Menz and fleeing the scene, Madsen testified that Menz's injuries included a collapsed lung, broken ribs, a traumatic brain injury and contusions to her legs.

"These are the types of things often seen with a person being hit by a car," he said.


Menz was photographing fall colors in the area moments before she was found face down in the water around 6 p.m. that night.

When pressed by defense attorneys, Madsen conceded that other factors could have caused the injuries. Public defender Jason Fitzgerald asked, for example, if a fall from a tree or from the concrete ledge along Skyline Parkway could have caused the injuries.

"You can't say for certain that Ms. Menz was hit by a vehicle?" Fitzgerald asked the medical examiner.

"With 100 percent certainty, no," Madsen replied.

Defense attorneys have contended that there is insufficient evidence to show that Menz was actually struck by Linskie's 2005 Ford Focus, which plunged into the water and came to rest several feet from Menz's body.

In the trial's opening statements, heard by jurors earlier Tuesday, fellow defense attorney Sonia Sturdevant argued that important questions remain unanswered.

"What happened that day is in many ways a mystery," she said.

Sturdevant also stated that the vehicle may have experienced mechanical issues - something that will remain unknown because the vehicle was inadvertently destroyed by authorities.


"Was there a problem with the steering?" Sturdevant posed to jurors. "Did the sun blind the driver? What was the cause of the car going off the road?"

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Vicky Wanta, meanwhile, framed the incident in much simpler terms.

Linskie had left a drug treatment session downtown that evening, stating that he was sick, and was driving to see his girlfriend via Skyline Parkway when the crash occurred, Wanta said. Linskie was residing at the Duluth Bethel and the trip was in violation of the facility's rules, the prosecutor said.

She said Linskie struck Menz before fleeing in a panic and attempting to cover up his involvement.

"We're all here today because of a tragic accident that was followed by one bad decision after another," Wanta told the jurors.

A group of three University of Minnesota Duluth students were the first to find Linskie's crashed car and Menz's body. Two of them testified Tuesday.

Keegan Johnson, a 20-year-old sophomore, said he and his friends stopped, calling 911 and pulling Menz from the water to perform CPR until paramedics arrived. He said they encountered a "panicked" man climbing out of the pond.

"I think he was trying to get away," Johnson testified. "He said, 'You never saw me,' and then proceeded to run toward the woods."


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."

Rick Menz, the husband of the victim, also took the stand Tuesday. After objections from the defense, Judge Shaun Floerke ruled that he was allowed to give a brief "spark of life" statement about his wife.

Married for 40 years, Menz spoke of his wife's love of family and photography. She came from a family of 14 siblings and left behind two adult children and three grandchildren.

"Sue loved photography," Rick Menz told jurors. "Early on, she discovered that she could really express herself with photography. She was kind of the de facto photographer of the family. She loved to take pictures of the children and grandchildren. But her real love was nature photography. The Enger Park and Twin Ponds area was her favorite."

Testimony is expected to resume Wednesday, and a verdict is expected by the end of the week.

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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