The most serious charge levied against a Minnesota woman accused in a 2016 crash that killed a Beldenville teenager was dismissed last week in St. Croix County Circuit Court.
St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Scott Needham accepted prosecution's motion to dismiss one count of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle Friday, Nov. 10, against 22-year-old Makellia S. Jensen. The Faribault woman was accused of causing 16-year-old Ellsworth High School student Kyra Hayes to swerve off the road, leading to the Oct. 21, 2016, crash.
The charging decision, word of which spread before the hearing among Hayes-family supporters, led to about 60 people packing the courtroom. Among those voicing concern was Hayes' sister, Rachael Hayes, who recorded a public statement on Facebook.
"My sister is dead because of someone's choice," she said in the Thursday, Nov. 9, video, urging others to stop using their phones while driving.
Rachael Hayes' statement addressed allegations that St. Croix County District Attorney Michael Nieskes said could no longer be proven beyond a reasonable doubt - that Jensen was looking at her phone in the moments leading up to the crash.
Nieskes said data extracted from the three cellphones found in Jensen's car did not corroborate witness statements from two motorists who reported seeing her looking at her phone before the crash. Conflicting information about the functioning capacity of Hayes' seat belt also dogged the case, Nieskes said.
He acknowledged the difficulty in reaching the decision, especially after Jensen made a Facebook comment admitting "I cut her off not looking in my blind spot," as well as a statement on a television news report claiming responsibility for the crash.
"After reviewing it with the attorney general's office, we do not believe we could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.
The development left a "devastating" impact on the family, according to a Facebook post by Kyra Hayes' mother, Ione Hayes.
"Something needs to change, not only in our laws but also at a personal level," the post reads. "The next time you're tempted to pick up your phone while driving, imagine one of your own loved ones."
Though Jensen no longer faces a homicide-by-vehicle charge, she has been convicted on two charges stemming from the case: felony methamphetamine possession and misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Jensen pleaded no contest Oct. 21 to those charges and was sentenced to four months in jail, three years on probation and $961 in fines. Probationary provisions prevent Jensen from using electronic devices for discussing drug use. She's also prohibited from contacting the Hayes family.
One felony narcotics possession charge remains open against Jensen. Two other felony narcotics possession charges have been dismissed.
A pretrial conference is set for Dec. 11.