Driver admits to huffing when he hit pedestrian in DuluthRobert Nicholas Buehlman, 29, of Bayfield, pleaded guilty last month to criminal vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm and four other crimes.
By: Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune
Robert Nicholas Buehlman admitted that he was huffing a chemical compound from an aerosol can when he drove onto a Superior Street sidewalk and struck and seriously injured Ashen-Shugar-Aren Diehl.
Buehlman, 29, of Bayfield, pleaded guilty last month to criminal vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm and four other crimes. Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines the defendant faces a probationary sentence.
But the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office doesn’t think that punishment matches the crime in this case, and prosecutor Jessica Smith filed a motion seeking a longer-than-guideline sentence on the grounds that Buehlman treated the victim with particular cruelty.
A hearing was held before Judge John DeSanto in State District Court in Duluth on Thursday in which Smith called the victim and four other witnesses in an attempt to convince the court that there are substantial and compelling reasons to depart from sentencing guidelines.
Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Smith said those substantial and compelling reasons included the fact that the defendant was inhaling a chemical compound, he didn’t seek help for the victim after striking her, her child was present, and he fled the scene.
Diehl, 33, of Duluth, testified from a wheelchair that she has lost the life she once had. She has no memory of the day she was struck by the vehicle Buehlman was driving and she doesn’t remember the next two weeks after the accident.
Diehl suffered a shattered vertebra, a collapsed lung, broken ribs, bruises all over her body, and she has no feeling in her legs. She said she had back-fusion surgery and said it’s likely that she will be confined to a wheelchair.
She has been unable to care for her 9-year-old daughter, who was with her the morning she was struck. The girl is staying with her grandmother, while the victim is being cared for at the Benedictine Health Center.
Duluth police crash Investigator Ryan Morris testified that there was no sign that Buehlman had attempted to brake before striking the pedestrian.
A woman who was riding with Buehlman at the time of the accident testified that she saw him put the aerosol can to his mouth and push the spray button. The defendant was inhaling the chemical difluoroethane from a popular computer-cleaning spray known as “Dust-Off.” The woman said Buehlman then blacked out and drove onto the sidewalk. She said she also once huffed chemicals while driving and it led to her blacking out and destroying her mother’s car.
Buehlman was accused of running a red light on Superior Street and hitting the woman Aug. 11.
According to the criminal complaint:
Police were dispatched to the 1200 block of Superior Street about 9:10 a.m. on a report that a pedestrian had been hit by a car that had left the scene. The vehicle was described as a small black Honda that was smoking, and the driver continued heading east on Superior Street after hitting the woman.
An officer saw Buehlman running toward him around the 1900 block of the Lakewalk. Two other officers brought two witnesses to Buehlman, and they identified him as the driver of the vehicle that hit Diehl.
Buehlman told police he didn’t know where he was because he’s not from the area. He said he was coming from the area of the Fond-du-Luth Casino and was talking to a passenger in his car. He said there were vehicles stopped in front of him, and when he hit his brakes they must have failed.
Buehlman said that he walked up to where the woman was lying, but admitted that he didn’t attempt to render any aid or make a phone call for help.
According to Wisconsin court records, Buehlman pleaded “no contest” in June after being cited for driving after his license was revoked. The restriction came after he was found guilty of having drug paraphernalia in his car.
DeSanto gave Smith until Nov. 9 to submit written briefs in support of her motion. Public defender Brent Olson will have until Nov. 16 to file the defendant’s response.
Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 4.