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Report: Squad car ran red light before fatal collision

Author / Coordinator: Bob Shaw
St. Paul Pioneer Press
November 2002

An Apple Valley police officer ran a red light Oct. 26 when his car struck another, killing the pregnant woman who was driving it, according the first official report of the accident.

The officer, Shane Mikkelson, 27, did not have his car’s flashing lights on until “an instant” before his police car hit a car driven by 28-year-old Katie Burg of Apple Valley, according to a two-page State Highway Patrol report. A fuller report is expected in several weeks.

The siren was never turned on, the report said. The report also says that Mikkelson was not responding to an emergency. Police have not said what Mikkelson was doing at the time of the accident, nor have they commented on other aspects of the case.

“It is clearly the city of Apple Valley at fault,” said Bill Sieben, the lawyer for Russell Burg, Katie Burg’s husband, who was critically injured in the accident.

Katie Burg, a sixth-grade teacher, died several days after the accident. Her baby, Jackson Lyle Burg, was delivered through a Caesarian section two months early, at 3 pounds, 3 ounces.

Father and son were reported in good condition Friday in Regions Hospital in St. Paul — and they now face the daunting task of making a life together without a mother. Burg has held his tiny son several times, according to Burg’s cousin, Mike Burg, who was visiting Burg in Regions Hospital on Friday.

“They both benefited greatly from that,” said Mike Burg, who saw the two survivors side by side. “They both looked pretty content.”

Baby Jackson, said Mike Burg, “is doing better than anyone expected. He is small, but has very good color. He has deep blue eyes and dark brown hair, like his dad.”

Mike Burg said Burg, 31, should be released from the hospital next week, having suffered a broken pelvis, several broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a liver injury, and a spleen that had to be removed. Burg will return home with the baby, and his in-laws will move in temporarily from Las Vegas to help.

It will be several months before Burg starts to try to walk again — raising the chance the father will be struggling to walk as his son learns to crawl.
It’s not clear what legal action is expected next. No civil or criminal action has been taken in court.

Phil Prokopowicz, chief deputy of the Dakota County Attorney’s Office, said it’s common for his office to take cases of this nature involving a police officer and a fatality to a grand jury, although he said he couldn’t comment on specifics.

Mikkelson and lawyers for Mikkelson and the city of Apple Valley either couldn’t be reached Friday or had no comment.

The State Patrol report, based in part on witness accounts, described how the accident happened in detail not available before Friday:

Mikkelson was eastbound on County 42 in Apple Valley in a squad car, with police markings on the side, but without a light bar on the roof. In the car with him was a 17-year-old Apple Valley student involved in a mentoring program. The report said witnesses said that the car was “at or above the posted speed limit” of 50 mph.

The police car went through a red light and hit Katie Burg’s car, which was southbound on Galaxie Avenue, on the passenger’s side, where Russell Berg was sitting. But “an instant” before impact, witnesses said, the police car’s red lights were turned on.

The information comes from a two-page traffic accident report written by the Minnesota State Patrol, which is investigating the crash. State Patrol spokesman Kevin Smith said Friday that the information in the report is accurate, although a more complete report of the accident will be out in several weeks.

In general, said Prokopowicz, potential charges in fatal traffic accidents could range from criminal vehicular homicide — a felony — or misdemeanors such as careless or reckless driving. It’s also possible there could be no charges in such a case, he said.

A person can be charged with criminal vehicular homicide if they are driving drunk or in a “grossly negligent manner,” according to the state statute. Examples of gross negligence could be traveling at extremely high rates of speed or driving the wrong direction, Prokopowicz said. Running a red light in and of itself may not be gross negligence, he said.

“Merely because it’s a violation of the law doesn’t automatically make it gross negligence,” he said.