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Jury finds beet truck driver 85% at fault in crash that killed young Ulen mom

Afton Braseth

MOORHEAD - A jury found both drivers were at fault in a fatal crash that killed Afton Braseth, of Ulen, north of here on Jan. 16, 2010.

The Clay County District Court jury determined that 27-year-old Braseth was 15 percent at fault, while the driver of a sugar beet truck, 63-year-old Robert Poehls Jr., was 85 percent at fault.

Braseth's husband, Nolan Braseth, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Poehls and his employer, TranSystems LLC, last February after the company sought damages from Braseth's estate.

The jury's determination that Poehls had more of a hand in causing the crash gives Nolan Braseth the right to seek damages from TranSystems and its insurance, said Daniel Dunn, Braseth's attorney.

"Poehls is prevented from recovering anything because of the fault analysis," Dunn said. "Nolan will be allowed to recover some damages for his family's losses."

The day of the accident, Poehls had just finished unloading a truckload of sugar beets at the American Crystal Sugar plant in Moorhead and was northbound on Highway 75. Braseth's pickup swerved into his lane just before the intersection of County Highway 93, said his attorneys.

With only an instant to decide, Poehls veered left instead of right because it looked to him as though Braseth's pickup was going to continue east and he was afraid of colliding with it on the shoulder of the road. Instead, Braseth swung the pickup back into her southbound lane, where the two vehicles collided, Poehls' attorneys said in opening statements on Monday.

On Wednesday, the jury of six women and three men reached their verdict after an afternoon of deliberations.

"This is a tragic situation for everyone involved," Dunn said. "We're humbled and gratified by the jury's decision. The jury was required to make very difficult and emotionally charged decisions, and we're pleased they found in our favor."

Nolan and Afton Braseth had a 2-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter at the time of the crash.

Nolan Braseth filed the suit in February as trustee of his wife's estate. Court documents said he sought more than $50,000 in damages, which Dunn said they will move forward with obtaining.

"Yes, that will be the next step. We're hopeful that we can help Nolan with the loss his family has sustained," Dunn said.

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Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530