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Superior man charged with criminal vehicular homicide 3 years after crash

A Superior man has been charged with criminal vehicular homicide, more than three years after a car crash that killed his co-worker along U.S. Highway 53 in St. Louis County.

James Duane Voltzke, 39, was charged by summons last week in State District Court with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide. The complaint alleges that Voltzke was intoxicated on April 14, 2011, when he failed to navigate a turn on the highway near Independence, crashing into a ditch and killing 28-year-old passenger Joseph Michael Lofald.

The crash was investigated by the Minnesota State Patrol, but the case was only recently submitted to the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office for charges. Sgt. Curt Mowers, a spokesman for the State Patrol, said the investigation was delayed due to the retirement of the original investigator and a heavy caseload at the time.

“The trooper wasn’t quite done investigating when he retired, so then someone else had to get involved,” Mowers said. “There was no time limit, no required time to get it done by. It just got pushed back. The workload for the investigative unit at the time was high, and there were other priority cases.”

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Vicky Wanta said two counts were brought against Voltzke because of a nuance in state law. One count simply alleges that Voltzke was “under the influence of alcohol” at the time of the crash, while the other specifically claims that he had “an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.”

Voltzke’s first court appearance is scheduled for May 20.

According to the criminal complaint:

Officers were called to the Spur Wayside Corner Gas Station, 7235 Swan Lake Road, just after 2 a.m. the night of the crash. The caller reported a suspicious male attempting to break into the gas station.

St. Louis County deputies responded and found Voltzke, who was soaking wet and dirty from head to toe. Voltzke said he was in a car accident and was trying to get to a phone to call for help. He said another man named Joe was still in the crashed car.

Another officer found Voltzke’s 1995 Geo Metro in the ditch at the corner of Highway 53 and Swan Lake Road. The car was severely damaged and partially submerged in water. The officer found Lofald in the front seat, still buckled in. He had visible injuries, and blood was running from his face down to his torso. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:18 a.m.

 Investigators learned that Voltzke and Lofald were iron workers at Minntac in Mountain Iron. The two were returning home from work, and Voltzke had planned to spend the night at Lofald’s Brookston home.

Earlier that evening, the two men and their co-workers had gone to the Sawmill Restaurant in Virginia, where Voltzke was seen on surveillance camera drinking multiple beers and taking three shots of alcohol. The video showed the two men leaving together in the car around 11:15 p.m.

As they drove south, Lofald fell asleep. At some point between 12:30 a.m. and 1:27 a.m., Voltzke failed to navigate the turn where U.S. Highway 53 meets Swan Lake Road. Tire tracks on the road showed that the car continued straight into the ditch, and there were no signs of Voltzke trying to correct the direction of the vehicle.

The car went up a berm, flipped end-over-end several times, and landed upright in 2 feet of water.

Speaking to officers at the gas station, Voltzke admitted that he and Lofald had been drinking and that he was the driver. He said he did not know Lofald’s condition and thought he might be sleeping.

Once Lofald was found and pronounced dead, Voltzke submitted to field sobriety tests. A preliminary test put his blood-alcohol content at 0.055, under the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent.

Voltzke was taken to a Duluth hospital, where a blood draw measured his level at 0.07. A Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension forensic scientist performed a retrograde extrapolation of the results, determining that his blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash would have been between 0.115 and 0.179.

An autopsy determined that Lofald’s skull was shattered and his brain was extensively damaged during the crash.