Think the court system took it easy on Amy Senser? Consider the case of 55-year-old Golden Valley resident Philip Bertelsen.
Earlier this week, Bertelsen was charged with four felonies, including two counts of criminal vehicular homicide, in connection with a November 3 accident that killed 20-year-old St. Paul resident Melvin Jones and his 21-year-old girlfriend, Minneapolis resident Brandy Banks-Sutta. Yet after he appeared in court on Wednesday, he was released from custody without having to post bail. He's reportedly due back in court May 20.
The accident occurred around 1:30 a.m. at Olson Memorial Highway and Morgan Avenue North in Minneapolis. According to the criminal complaint, Bertelsen, driving a white Buick sedan, slammed into the back of an Impala driven by Jones at a stoplight. When cops arrived at the scene Jones and Banks-Sutta were already dead, and Bertelsen was "unresponsive," bloody, and hunched over into the passenger's seat of his car.
Bertelsen's blood alcohol level was .18, but he was hit with new charges this week because information recovered from the crash data retrieval system in his car indicated he was traveling at a rate of 107 mph three seconds before impact, 104 mph two seconds before impact, and 95 mph one second before impact, according to the complaint.
We called Hennepin County District Judge William Koch in hopes he could clarify the rationale behind his decision to release Bertelsen without bail, but an employee in his chambers declined comment. We also called Mike Padden, an attorney representing Banks-Sutta's family, but he hasn't returned our voicemail.
Asked about Bertelsen's release, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told us, "It is unusual."
Unsurprisingly, the victims' families are upset with Koch's decision. Padden told KSTP Banks-Sutta's family is "devastated," adding, "When you hear the state request bail at $300,000, and then the decision is made for no bail, that can be fairly shocking." (Bertelsen's attorney points out his client has completed alcohol treatment since the wreck.)
The Star Tribune reports that while Bertelsen didn't have to post bail to be released, he will have to abide by specific conditions, likely including no use of drugs or alcohol, completing a chemical dependency evaluation, and remaining law-abiding.
A search of Minnesota court records indicates Betelsen's driver's license was suspended in 2008 after he failed to appear at a court hearing regarding a "signal to turn" ticket. Our search didn't turn up anything else, but the Strib reports he was convicted 11 times for various driving violations in slightly more than 10 years, with the offenses including speeding, excessive acceleration, and disobeying traffic signals.