Wright Sheriff MT

Distracted driving is believed to have been a factor in a three-vehicle crash April 16 in St. Michael.

Now a Monticello man has been charged with criminal vehicular operation, careless driving, and use of wireless communications in traffic in connection with the crash, which resulted in multiple injuries.

Cody E. Westphal, 26, of Monticello, has also been charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and driving without insurance after the crash on County Road 35 and Iffert Avenue Northwest in St. Michael.

Gordon Lindenfelser of St. Michael and his passenger Mary Lindenfelser, were in a Chevrolet Suburban and stopped at the intersection and waiting to make a left turn from County 35 onto Iffert Avenue. Gordon Lindenfelser observed Westphal approaching his vehicle from his rear view mirror. Westphal, driving a Chevrolet Silverado, was not slowing down as he approached the Lindenfelser vehicle, according to a criminal complaint filed in Wright County District Court. 

A witness stated that Westphal swerved to avoid a crash but instead struck the rear end of the Lindenfelser’s Suburban. Mary Lindenfelser was injured in the crash, the complaint states. Westphal was trapped inside his vehicle and needed to be extricated from his vehicle. Authorities reported that gasoline was leaking from the Silverado.

As a result of the impact of the crash, Westphal’s Silverado turned 180 degrees and went into oncoming traffic, where it struck a Toyota Avalon driven by Michael Grover. A witness said it appeared that Westphal was distracted by something inside his vehicle, according to the complaint.

Westphal, who himself was injured and interviewed by deputies while in an ambulance, stated that he was looking at his passenger side mirror right before the crash. When he looked forward again, it was too late to avoid the crash, Westphal stated.

But a forensic examination of Westphal’s cellular telephone suggested otherwise, court records suggest.

Westphal’s phone records contradicted the statement Westphal made to authorities and showed a text message conversation taking place at the time of the crash, the complaint states.

A 911 call reporting the crash came into the Wright County Communications Center at 4:27 p.m. on April 13. The examination showed that Westphal made a call on his cell phone at 4:23 p.m. and received a text response at 4:24 p.m. Westphal responded with a text message at 4:25 p.m. and received a second text message at 4:25 p.m.

The witness who placed the 911 call at 4:27 p.m. told deputies that at the time of the crash, he first exited his vehicle to see if victims of the crash were injured. The witness estimated about a minute passed between the time of the crash, his checking on the victims, and his placing the 911 call, the complaint states.

Westphal is also facing a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.

As part of a inventory of Westphal’s vehicle, deputies found a metal grinder that smelled of marijuana, as well as a pill container that contained trace amounts of a green, leafy substance that also smelled like marijuana.

Reach Jeff Hage at jeff.hage@ecm-inc.com



Jeff Hage is the editor of the Monticello Times newspaper in Monticello, Minn. He came to Monticello after seven years at our sister papers in Princeton and Milaca.

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