A Royalton man entered a plea of guilty to criminal vehicular homicide Thursday in Morrison County District Court, in connection to the 2018 death of a 37-year-old Rice woman.
Eric Brian Scholl, 48, Royalton, appeared in front of District Court Judge Leonard A. Weiler via Zoom for a plea hearing Thursday. His attorney, Gary Leistico of Rinke Noonan Attorneys at Law, said he and the prosecutor, Assistant Morrison County Attorney Heidi Swisher, had reached a plea agreement in the case.
Scholl pleaded guilty to one of two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide in connection to the case. The guilty plea was in regard to his blood alcohol content being over the legal limit of .08 at the time he was driving an all-terrain vehicle. The other count was dropped as part of the agreement.
Scholl was officially charged with criminal vehicular homicide on Oct. 12, 2018, six days after he rolled the ATV he was driving on the Soo Line Trail in Pierz Township. The accident caused Karla Jean Scheel, 37, of Rice to be thrown from the vehicle. When Scholl and another passenger got the ATV upright, they found Scheel was pinned underneath. She later died from injuries sustained in the crash.
When a deputy from the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office spoke with Scholl after the wreck, he smelled of alcohol and appeared to have bloodshot eyes and slurred speech, the criminal complaint said. He also performed poorly on field sobriety tests.
Scholl was taken to CHI St. Gabriel’s Hospital for a blood draw after law enforcement obtained a search warrant. The results showed he had a blood alcohol content of .175 — more than twice the legal limit — within two hours of the crash.
“Mr. Scholl, based upon the .175 result, would you agree that at the time you were driving the ATV your blood alcohol content would have been over .08?” Swisher asked.
“Yes,” Scholl said.
“Mr. Scholl, do you agree that as a result of operating that ATV and your over .08 alcohol content that you caused the death of a human being?” Weiler asked later in the hearing.
“I do,” Scholl said.
As part of the plea agreement, Scholl will serve a staggered 90-day jail sentence. He will be required to serve an initial 30 days, after which he would serve 15 days each year until the 90-day sentence was fulfilled. However, the subsequent 15-day increments can be waived if he remains compliant with the conditions of his probation. He will also get credit for four days served.
Scholl is also required to do 180 hours of community service, at least 60 per year, and pay a fine of $500 plus applicable court costs. He will also receive 10 years of supervised probation and will be required to attend a MADD impact panel. He is to abstain from all non-prescribed mood-altering drugs, including alcohol, and is not allowed to enter a bar or liquor store for the duration of the probation period.
Weiler asked Swisher for a basis for the departure of a 48-month sentence in the case.
“Your Honor, I believe that Mr. Scholl is amenable to probation,” she said. “He has had no conditional release violations during the pendency of this matter. He’s had no further charges. He had no previous criminal charges, in fact, prior to this incident.
“Other reasons include that I believe he’s shown that he’s very remorseful,” she continued. “My understanding is that he’s actually paying for the decedent’s children’s schooling. He also has support of the decedent’s family in this matter. People have reached out to me expressing that they support him, so he has strong support and he cooperated with the investigation.”
Weiler entertained the guilty plea, but he deferred acceptance until after a pre-sentencing investigation and Scholl has completed a chemical dependency evaluation. A sentencing date has not yet been set. He is required to contact Morrison County Community Corrections within 48 hours to begin the pre-sentence investigation.
“Part of that is going to be my comfort level with following through with this agreement,” Weiler said of his accepting the plea agreement. “That’s going to be largely based on the chemical dependency evaluation. I’m curious to see what they have to say.”