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Fargo hit-and-run victim's death may complicate trial

Melody Leavell died four months after the incident. Special to The Forum

Melody Leavell died at the age of 36 on Jan. 9 in her Fargo home as the result of a drug overdose.

Leavell's mother says her daughter was taking medication to relieve pain caused by a September hit-and-run that left Leavell with severe injuries to her face as well as tread marks running down her back.

Following an investigation, the Cass County state's attorney's office filed a charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving serious injury against the suspected driver, Jennifer Elena Grieger, who told investigators she was involved in a confrontation with Leavell just before the incident.

Grieger's trial is tentatively set to start Tuesday in Cass County District Court.

Mark Boening, an assistant Cass County state's attorney, said he could not discuss the merits of the case at length, but he said the prosecution's job has been made more difficult with the loss of the state's star witness, Leavell herself, as well as another important witness whom prosecutors have been unable to find.

Tire tracks

According to documents filed in Cass County District Court:

The hit-and-run happened Sept. 15.

When Fargo police officer Daniel Hansen arrived at Leavell's home, he found her looking like she had "been beat up pretty badly," according to the report he filed on the incident.

Leavell's nose looked like it had been shoved upwards into her skull, the report stated.

When paramedics lifted Leavell's shirt, Officer Hansen observed what appeared to be a tire track on Leavell's back.

Although she was unable to communicate at length immediately after the incident, Leavell told police she had argued with a friend, Grieger, about the possibility that someone Grieger knew had stolen medications from Leavell.

Police spoke to Grieger, who told them she and Leavell had argued, and Grieger said she was behind the wheel of her vehicle when Leavell began punching her.

Grieger told police that when she drove away it was possible she had injured Leavell, but she didn't know for sure.

According to the court documents, Grieger told a friend about a half hour to an hour after the incident that it was possible she had run over Leavell. At the time Grieger had the conversation with her friend, she had not called police or checked to see if Leavell was injured, the court documents said.

Grieger could not be reached for comment for this story.

'Spiritual and giving'

The injuries Leavell suffered left her in a lot of pain, said her mother.

"She told me that she looked like the bride of Frankenstein and that she had metal holding her eye in. That girl was suffering," said Pamela Woods, who lives in Clear Lake, Calif.

Woods said her daughter, whom she called by her middle name, Hattie, ran away from home at 13 and remained something of a wanderer.

Woods described her daughter as very spiritual and very giving, adding she was interested in Native American culture and events like black powder shoots that celebrate life on the frontier.

"She should have been born in the 1700s or 1800s. That's where she belonged," Woods said.

Woods said the official cause of death listed for her daughter was an overdose of prescription medication.

"She just took too much because she was in so much pain," Woods said.