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Bemidji woman pleads guilty to criminal vehicular homicide

BEMIDJI -- Keisha Marie Van Pelt, 28, of Bemidji, was sentenced Dec. 7 to 60 months in prison for felony criminal vehicular homicide or operating a vehicle with negligence under the influence of alcohol.

She entered a guilty plea, Sept. 22, in Beltrami County District Court before Judge Paul Benshoof, who set the following conditions: She must pay a $33 fine, restitution reserved

She was convicted in connection with a crash that killed 3-year-old Valencia Marie Van Pelt, her niece.

Van Pelt was driving a Mitsubishi Montero with Valencia in a booster seat the morning of Oct. 31, 2008, when she took a wrong turn from Anne Street onto Irvine Avenue, then executed a U-turn and headed back toward the city limits.

At about 8:15 a.m., she lost control of the vehicle. It 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.

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 suffered 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.

Van Pelt said she had taken the prescription medication Ultram, which 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. She said she had taken all the Vicodin prescribed for her several days earlier. She also said she smoked marijuana "almost every day or every other day," and said she had illegally securing methadone, taking it several days prior to coming to Bemidji.

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

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.

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