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Nelson found guilty of vehicular homicide

Lisa Nelson broke down in tears when she heard a verdict convicting her brother of criminal vehicular homicide.

A Becker County jury deliberated for seven hours Wednesday and found Jeremy Scott Nelson, of 17520 County Road 5, Lake Park, guilty.

Judge Peter Irvine read the jurors' unanimous verdict before a courtroom full of Nelson's family members Wednesday night.

Nelson was found guilty on three felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide: driving in a grossly negligent manner, driving under the influence and leaving the scene.

The verdict indicates that Nelson caused the Aug. 17, 2008, accident that took the life of 29-year-old Christopher Wade Carlson of Lake Park.

He drove his pickup truck on County Road 1 around 3 a.m. when he struck an ATV driven by Carlson, at about 90 mph in the south ditch. He then reportedly pushed the ATV back up to the highway before hitting a field approach in the north ditch.

Carlson's body was found on the shoulder of the highway. He died from extensive bleeding in the chest cavity and the brain, along with other multiple traumatic injuries caused by the accident, according to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office.

Witnesses Brad and Rita Westlund, who arrived at the scene after being notified of the accident by Steve Westlund, who saw Carlson's body on the road, told the jury they never saw Nelson on the scene and reported that his truck was locked.

"He had to decide, do I help Chris Carlson, or do I help myself," Clay County Attorney Brian Melton said in his closing arguments. "He never contacts law enforcement until they contact him."

While Melton explained that Nelson struck Carlson at full throttle as a result of driving negligently, defense attorney Kenneth Kohler argued that Nelson was using an evasive maneuver to the right to avoid the ATV he saw on the highway. Both vehicles were traveling northbound on County Road 1.

"Four-wheelers probably are not a common sight at 2:30 in the morning," Kohler said, adding that because it had no headlights or reflectors at the time, it was even more difficult to see.

"Is that a sign of negligence?" he asked. "I think that's a sign of being brave."

He concluded that Carlson drove his ATV into the ditch after seeing the Nelson truck headlights shining from behind.

"Sadly enough, Chris Carlson caused this accident," Kohler said.

When Melton explained that Nelson had been drinking the night of the accident, at least five drinks, according to witnesses, Kohler disagreed.

It's unknown whether Nelson actually drank the five beers he purchased. Some witnesses said he was buying drinks for others, Kohler said.

"There is absolutely no evidence that shows he was impaired," he said.

Everyone who saw him that night said he showed no signs of being under the influence, he added.

In fact, Carlson was the one who needed a ride home after spending a few hours at the Cormorant Pub the night of the accident, Kohler said, according to witnesses.

But when Becker County deputy Bruce Anderson tested Nelson's blood alcohol content at 8:55 a.m. -- about six hours after the accident -- it was at 0.05 percent. And according to expert witnesses, his blood alcohol content had to have been at least 0.12 percent, at about 3 a.m.

"This impact was a violent and ferocious impact," Melton said. "Chris Carlson was a husband, a father, a friend, a brother ... he hoped to become a farmer, he hoped to own a house, he had dreams, he had hopes, and on Aug. 17, 2008, this defendant took all that away from him."

Nelson's trial lasted seven days with more than 30 witnesses testifying in the case. He was prosecuted by Clay County because of a conflict of interest in Becker County.

His sentencing date is set for March 31. He faces a 48-month prison term.