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Man charged with criminal vehicular operation for Labor Day 'booze cruise' crash

James Russell

DOWNER, Minn. — A Hawley, Minn., man is charged with three felony counts after an afternoon of "booze cruising" led to one man going to the hospital, court documents say.

James William Russell, 23, of Hawley, Minn., is charged in Clay County District Court with three felony counts: first-degree assault, second-degree assault and criminal vehicular operation, and one gross misdemeanor count of fifth-assault degree in connection with an incident Monday, Sept. 3.

According to court documents, authorities were dispatched to the Mainline Bar in Downer, Minn., on a report that a man was run over by a vehicle that had left the scene.

A Clay County sheriff's deputy arrived to find the victim lying unconscious and unresponsive in a lane of Highway 9 just south of County Road 10, around 3:30 p.m. Monday, September 3. 

The victim was taken to the hospital.

Witnesses told the deputy they saw the victim standing in front of a vehicle and another person was attempting to pull him away when the vehicle, a van, ran over the victim, court records say.

Other witnesses said the victim was standing in front of the vehicle with his arms extended, as if inviting the driver to fight, according to court records.

Russell's sister told the deputy that Russell and the victim, her fiance, were fighting, court records said.

She said Russell ran over the victim, who then fell and hit his head, court documents stated.

A Minnesota State Patrol trooper and another officer ultimately located the van and initiated a traffic stop.

A male passenger in the van told police Russell assaulted him as well as having run over the victim, court records said.

The passenger told authorities they had been "booze cruising."

Court documents say there were open liquor bottles in the vehicle and a strong smell of alcohol coming from Russell.

A blood sample from Russell was sent to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for testing.

Medical records obtained by law enforcement indicated the person strike by the vehicle was admitted with trauma and respiratory failure and had to be submitted to the intensive care unit, court records stated.

The victim later told a deputy he had trouble remembering but could recall being hit by a vehicle.

He said he was trying to break up a fight between Russell and another person and was walking around the vehicle when it accelerated and hit him, court records said.

A voice message left for Russell's attorney was not immediately answered Thursday, Sept. 6.