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Charges: Driver in fatal crash that killed Ada teen was drunk

Carter Peterson, 16, and a junior at Ada-Borup High School, will be celebrated at a football game Wednesday, October 19 in Ada, Minn. Carter was killed in a car crash October 16 near Borup, Minn. Submitted photo1 / 2
Ethan M. Stensgard2 / 2

ADA, Minn. —The surviving driver in a two-vehicle crash that killed an Ada, Minn., 16-year-old in October has been charged in connection with the teen's death, accused of causing the crash by blowing through a stop sign at 40 mph while drunk.

Ethan M. Stensgard, 20, of Enderlin, N.D., was charged on Tuesday, Dec. 20, with criminal vehicular homicide and third-degree driving while impaired, a gross misdemeanor, for the Oct. 16 crash in Norman County that killed Carter A. Peterson, a junior at Ada-Borup High School.

On Tuesday morning, Stensgard turned himself in and is jailed at the Tri-County Community Corrections in Crookston, Norman County Attorney James Brue said Tuesday night.

"There's a sense of relief that the investigation part is over. But it's not over by a long ways," said Randy Peterson, father of the 16-year-old. "We know Carter didn't do anything wrong."

On the vehicular homicide charge, Stensgard faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison or $20,000 fine, or both. The DWI carries a $3,000 fine with up to a year in prison.

If Stensgard is convicted, Brue plans to seek an aggravated sentence, according to the complaint, on the grounds that he was allegedly driving recklessly, tried to blame the crash on the victim and had a BAC of 0.236, nearly three times the legal limit. He told a trooper it was Peterson who had driven out in front of his pickup, though a reconstruction of the crash showed the opposite, the complaint alleges.

Peterson had just dropped off his girlfriend in Hawley and was headed back home to Ada at about 10 p.m. and was less than 10 miles from home, driving north on Highway 9. He was struck by Stensgard's pickup heading east on County Road 39. Stensgard told troopers he'd been going north on Highway 9 and Peterson had been driving on County Road 39.

According to the complaint, Stensgard failed to stop at the stop sign and was going 40 mph at that time of the crash. Cellphone records confirmed the accident reconstruction by the State Patrol, the complaint says.

Peterson's car was on fire when law enforcement and emergency crews arrived at the scene, so engulfed that first responders couldn't tell if there was anyone still inside. The first authorities on the scene included the 16-year-old's father, Randy Peterson, who works with the Ada Fire Department.

Multiple officers who spoke with Stensgard at the scene of the crash could smell a strong odor of alcohol coming from him. After being questioned multiple times if he had been drinking, Stensgard said he had "a couple drinks," the complaint says. Troopers got a warrant and tested Stensgard's blood for alcohol a little less than two hours after the crash.

A few days following the crash, troopers met Stensgard and his family at a State Patrol impound lot so he could remove personal items from his pickup truck. Ethan Stensgard tried to take a bottle of what appeared to be homemade wine and an empty 1.75 liter bottle of whiskey from his truck, but a trooper secured both bottles as evidence, the complaint says.

"We kind of knew from day one that alcohol was a factor," Randy Peterson said. "Not that it makes it any difference. It doesn't change the outcome."

A bail hearing for Stensgard is slated for Wednesday, Dec. 21.