St. Paul man accused of homicide in car-surfing death charged with 3 felonies
Burnett County authorities have charged a Minnesota man with three felonies -- including two counts of homicide -- for an August incident in which a companion was fatally injured while taking part in the high-thrill practice of car-surfing.
Cole Tyler Fohrenkamm, 21, of St. Paul, was charged Wednesday with one count each of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle, first-degree recklessly endangering safety, and homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle.
The maximum sentence for the first count is 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. The maximum for the second is 12½ years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The maximum for the third is 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
In addition, Fohrenkamm was charged Wednesday with one count each of reckless driving while endangering someone's safety and driving with a person riding illegally.
Fohrenkamm is scheduled to appear in Burnett County Circuit Court on Dec. 19 on all three cases.
Just after 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 11 the Burnett County Sheriff's Office received a call for medical assistance after Shawn Gunner Swanson, 21, of St. Paul, fell off of a vehicle on which he was riding. He died the next day.
According to the criminal complaint:
Fohrenkamm, Swanson, Kyle Anthony Miller and others were traveling along Glendenning Road in Oakland Town. They had stopped, Swanson climbed on the vehicle and Fohrenkamm pulled away. Steven Lee Uhl Jr. also climbed onto the outside of the vehicle.
After driving from a logging road onto Glendenning Road, Fohrenkamm "increased his speed to about 40 miles per hour," the complaint said. "Steven Lee Uhl stated the defendant was also weaving the vehicle side to side during this time, which is consistent with a 'car-surfing' series of maneuvers, a prank which seemed to be designed to test the ability of the 'surfers,' in this case Shawn and Steven Lee Uhl, to remain on the vehicle."
Swanson fell from the vehicle and, after Fohrenkamm stopped and turned around, was found lying on the road not moving. According to the complaint, he had suffered a severe injury to the back of his head. Since none of the men had a cell phone, they loaded him into the vehicle and drove to the St. Croix Casino in Danbury for help.
Fohrenkamm admitted to authorities that he had been drinking earlier in the day and was driving the vehicle when Swanson fell. Fohrenkamm refused to take a preliminary breath test, but a later blood test indicated an alcohol level of .116 and found Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
A search of Minnesota and Wisconsin court records for Fohrenkamm found 2010 convictions in Minnesota, one for trespassing and one for speeding. Both charges were petty misdemeanors.How many people are killed or injured while car-surfing in America isn't known, since there is no uniform reporting of the incidents. The most accurate numbers -- which probably understate the problem -- come from a 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC used a database of American newspaper articles from January 1990 to August 2008. Researchers found 58 car-surfing deaths and 41 non-fatal injuries reported during that time.
The average age of those injured or killed was 17.6, with males accounting for 70 percent of the victims. The largest number of car-surfing injuries and deaths occurred in August, and 74 percent of the incidents reported happened in the Midwest and the South.
The report also noted that car-surfing injuries and deaths were reported over a wide range of vehicle speeds, from as slow as 5 mph up to 80 mph.
While people have car-surfed for years, some authorities believe the practice has become more common in these days of social media and Web videos.