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Bail set at $200,000 for DL man charged with killing four people in July 4 van crash

Bail was set at $200,000 Thursday for a Detroit Lakes man accused of killing four people and seriously injuring two others in a van crash July 4.

Chad Eric Stewart, 26, of 810 East Central St. No. 10, Detroit Lakes was arraigned Thursday morning in Becker County District Court.

He was allegedly the driver of the white 1995 Chevy Lumina van, which left the roadway and struck a field approach about 2:40 a.m. about 30 miles northeast of Detroit Lakes.

Gregory Norcross, 45, of Ponsford was among those who died. The others were Kayla Norcross, 24, Charlene Norcross, 22, and Scott Adams, 28, all of Ponsford.

Injured were Donna Peake, 22, of Ponsford and Amber Goodman, 23, of Ponsford.

Stewart himself was injured in the crash, and appeared in court in a wheelchair. He is "barely ambulatory" and suffered a cracked hip, cracked lower back, shoulder injury and broken ribs in the accident, said his public defender, Nancy Bowman,

Bowman asked District Judge Lisa Borgen to set bond at $25,000, arguing that Stewart is not a flight risk or a risk to public safety.

"This happened July 4, it's now over a month later -- if he is such a threat why wasn't the complaint filed sooner, why wasn't he picked up sooner? He's been at home. He's known that he would probably be charged. He did not run."

It's a tragic case, she added, four people died, but three people were injured, not two, since Stewart was also injured.

"He's in a wheelchair," she said. "He vigorously denies being the driver. He has not consumed alcohol since the accident, he has pending medical CT scans, X-rays and other appointments for injuries from the accident. When the police came to get him, he went willingly, he cooperated ... He is in no condition to flee the state."

Charges were filed as soon the Becker County Attorney's Office received blood test results from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab showing Stewart's blood alcohol concentration on the night of the crash was .15 percent, said County Attorney Mike Fritz.

"One passenger was in a coma," he told the judge. "She came out of it and was able to identify him (Stewart) as the driver, but we did not have evidence from the blood tests yet."

Borgen reminded Fritz that Becker County will have to foot the medical bills for Stewart while he is in jail. Fritz responded that he was aware of that, but for reasons of public safety requested Stewart be held on $200,000 bail or bond, with a number of conditions, including that he have no contact with the survivors of the crash, that he not drive, and that he abstain from alcohol and drugs, submit to random testing, and stay out of bars.

"Mr. Stewart is a threat to public safety and fight risk," he said. "He has a significant criminal history -- he's had nine prior arrest warrants for prosecution of criminal matters."

He is currently facing a probation violation for failure to complete chemical dependency treatment.

"We know the charges relate to the defendant driving with an alcohol concentration over .08 percent, and as a result of that, four individuals lost their lives and two were seriously injured," Fritz said.

On a separate file Thursday, Stewart waived extradition to North Dakota on a charge of aggravated domestic assault.

"I have no information about it," Bowman told the judge. 'My guess is he was not informed of the court hearing."

"Here's the deal," Borgen said. When setting bail, "the court looks at criminal history, the current charges and the seriousness of them, and willingness to report to court.

"These are very serious charges -- four people lost their lives. There's a substantial criminal history which includes alcohol violations, a pending probation violation and past warrants. It's very clear to the court that you are a threat to public safety," she told Stewart.

She set two bail options: $200,000 cash or bond, with the conditions laid out by the county attorney's office, as well as use of an alcohol monitor "so we can ensure you are not drinking any alcohol," Borgen said.

Or $500,000 cash bail or bond, without any conditions of release.

After that, Borgen set Stewart's next court appearance, an omnibus hearing, for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 24.

The hearing was over, but Stewart grew agitated on the way out, he turned and used some legal papers he was holding to make a throat-slashing motion towards a reporter.

He then yelled: "Get me out! Get me out!" at his father and other family members in the rear of the courtroom.

Stewart was charged Wednesday with four serious felony counts of criminal vehicular operation, one felony count of criminal vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm, and a serious felony count of criminal vehicular operation resulting in bodily harm -- driving with an alcohol concentration of .08 percent or more.