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Driver in fiery Clay County crash appears in court in wheelchair

MOORHEAD - A Minot, N.D., woman was pushed into court in a wheelchair Monday to make her first appearance on charges that allege she was drunk when she caused a fiery crash on Highway 75 that injured herself and an elderly couple.

Sitting in Clay County District Court with one leg elevated in a cast, 25-year-old Brianna Eileen Pallotta listened as Judge Galen Vaa set her bail at $80,000 without conditions or $50,000 with conditions.

Pallotta is charged with two felony counts of DWI and one felony count and one misdemeanor count of criminal vehicular operation in connection with the Oct. 9 crash about three miles north of Moorhead.

The Minnesota State Patrol reported that Pallotta was driving south on Highway 75 at about 9:30 p.m. when she tried to pass another vehicle and struck an oncoming car head-on. The driver of the vehicle she was trying to pass told authorities she was going 85 to 90 mph, court records state.

Pallotta was pinned in the car she was driving, which caught fire after the crash. A sheriff's deputy and two nearby residents helped free her just moments before the car was engulfed in flames.

The driver of the other car, Nolan Underlee, 83, of Hendrum, was taken in critical condition to Sanford Health, where he remains. His condition is not being released. His wife, Doris Underlee, 79, is no longer hospitalized.

Pallotta allegedly acknowledged to a trooper that she didn't have a driver's license and was drinking before the crash, the complaint states.

County Attorney Brian Melton asked Judge Galen Vaa to set bail for Pallotta at $75,000 cash or bond with conditions or $150,000 without. Melton said Pallotta presents both a public safety concern and a flight risk, citing her criminal record that includes four drunken-driving convictions - two from 2008 and two from 2011 - and convictions for escape and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

Public defender Shawn Schmidt said Pallotta isn't a flight risk, noting she was employed at a Fargo restaurant prior to the crash.

Schmidt said Pallotta is on parole from the North Dakota Department of Corrections, meaning even if she posts bail - which he said she won't be able to afford - she would have to sign a waiver of extradition to be released.

To meet the conditions of her lower bail amount, Pallotta would have to abstain from alcohol, submit to electronic monitoring, refrain from driving and stay in Minnesota, except to go to Cass and Richland counties in North Dakota, Vaa said.