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Beltrami District Court: Woman pleads innocent to criminal vehicular homicide

A Bemidji woman has pleaded innocent in Beltrami District Court in connection with a crash that killed 3-year-old Valencia Marie Van Pelt, her niece.

Keisha Marie Van Pelt, 28, of Bemidji, entered her plea July 13 to serious felony criminal vehicular homicide before District Judge Paul Benshoof. Her next court date is Sept. 22.

Van Pelt was driving a Mitsubishi Montero, with Valencia in a booster seat, the morning of Oct. 31 when she took a wrong turn from Anne Street onto Irvine Avenue, then executed a U-turn and headed back toward the city limits, according to the criminal complaint.

At about 8:15 a.m., she lost control of the vehicle, went into the ditch, hit an approach and vaulted 82 feet before landing on its roof in a pasture on the 4200 block of Irvine Avenue, according to the complaint.

Witnesses said Van Pelt had been driving at fluctuating speeds, frequently below the speed limit, before the vehicle gradually drifted into the northbound lane of travel and then into the ditch.

Valencia, the daughter of Robert Van Pelt and Lynette Stone, died of injuries sustained in the crash.

A Beltrami County sheriff's deputy located Van Pelt at North Country Regional Hospital, where she was being treated for her injuries. A sample of her blood was taken.

Van Pelt told the deputy that she believed she had left the road after swerving to avoid hitting a group of cats, but none of the witnesses had seen anything in the roadway that would explain her driving off the road, the complaint stated.

Van Pelt said she had taken the prescription medication Ultram, according to the complaint, which also noted that the drug may have been stolen. Van Pelt also said she had prescriptions for and had taken the drugs Klonopin and Lorazepam, and that she had received a prescription for Vicodin after dental work performed in Mahnomen, where she was living at the time of the crash, the complaint stated. She claimed she had taken all the Vicodin prescribed for her several days earlier, according to the complaint. She also admitted smoking marijuana "almost every day or every other day, and admitted that she had illegally securing methadone, taking it several days prior to coming to Bemidji, the complaint stated.

In a search of the vehicle, a single pill was found of a generic of Vicodin, according to the complaint.

The sample of Van Pelt's blood was submitted to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Forensic Science Laboratory for analysis. On Feb. 9, the results of that analysis showed that Van Pelt had the following drugs in her system: oxazepam, a Schedule IV drug; alprazolam (sold under the brand name Xanax); temazepam, sold under the brand name Restoril; and metabolites of THS, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, according to the complaint.

A recognized side effect of alprazolam, temazepam and oxazepam is drowsiness and lethargy.

The maximum penalty for criminal vehicular homicide is 10 years in prison or $20,000 fine, or both.