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At least 9 witnesses saw fatal Duluth crash

St. Louis County Sheriff's Office -- Katzmark, Theresa Marie

DULUTH — At least nine people witnessed a Superior, Wis., woman fatally strike a good Samaritan who came to her aid after her vehicle skidded off London Road on Tuesday, according to charges filed Friday, April 7.

Theresa Marie Katzmark, 49, was arraigned in State District Court in Duluth on a felony charge of criminal vehicular homicide in the death of 62-year-old Donna Ruth Estrem of Duluth.

Witnesses reportedly told police that Estrem went to check on Katzmark, whose Mercury Mountaineer was the subject of numerous erratic driving reports, when she left the road in front of the Ecumen Lakeshore facility at London Road and 40th Avenue East at about 12:40 p.m. Tuesday.

When Estrem began walking away, crossing in front of the SUV, Katzmark "aggressively accelerated forward," pinning Estrem against an electrical box at the corner, according to the criminal complaint.

Police said Katzmark showed signs of controlled substance impairment, but analysis of a blood draw was still pending with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on Friday.

At an arraignment hearing, 6th Judicial District Judge Eric Hylden set Katzmark's bail at $250,000 and granted her a referral for potential pretrial supervised release.

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Chris Pinkert told the judge that the case was "one of the gravest situations we have."

"It appears obvious (the) defendant was impaired by something and the state is concerned there may be underlying issues posing a continuing risk to public safety," the prosecutor added in a memorandum submitted to the court.

Katzmark is a nurse and a longtime resident of the area. She has no prior criminal history, both Pinkert and defense attorney Mikkel Long told the judge.

Estrem was pronounced dead at the scene and Katzmark was taken into custody, with authorities reporting that witnesses provided "strikingly similar accounts" of the fatal crash.

Authorities said they received numerous 911 calls and spoke to additional witnesses who reported seeing the SUV driving erratically shortly before the crash.

The Mountaineer was seen swerving across lanes near Second Street and Fifth Avenue East, driving in a center turn lane on London Road and nearly striking a truck, according to the complaint. Katzmark repeatedly failed to stop at intersections and was seen rapidly accelerating at various points, the charges state.

One witness reported that the SUV was going "well in excess" of the 40 mph speed limit as it approached 40th Avenue East. The vehicle left the roadway, leaving behind a trail of skid marks and coming to rest in the grass next to a Ecumen sign about 20 feet in front of the electrical box, according to the complaint.

Authorities said that's when Estrem approached Katzmark, asking her if she was OK. Katzmark said yes, and Estrem began to walk away, crossing in front of the SUV, according to the complaint.

"By all accounts, defendant's vehicle then aggressively accelerated forward, striking Ms. Estrem and pinning her against the electrical box," the complaint states.

One witness, Colleen Murray, said earlier this week that she saw the driver looking behind her, believing she was attempting to back out when the vehicle instead lunged forward.

Police said Katzmark "appeared to be having a hard time recalling the events," looked sluggish, had slurred speech and showed numerous signs of impairment during field sobriety tests. Officers applied for a search warrant and took her to a local hospital for a blood draw.

The test showed that she did not have alcohol in her system, according to the complaint, but tests for additional substances were yet to be completed by the BCA. Investigators also were still working on an accident reconstruction report, the complaint says.

Katzmark's next court appearance is scheduled for April 26.

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