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Eden Prairie man acquitted in Cass Lake boat crash case

A jury found John Fisher Harstad, 47, of Eden Prairie, Minn., innocent of 12 counts of felony criminal vehicular operation causing bodily harm.

After a four-day trial in Bemidji County District Court, the jury convicted Harstad Sept. 3 of misdemeanor DWI, driving a motorboat after with a blood alcohol level of more than .08, namely .17.

The case related to a boating accident Aug. 9, 2009, on Cass Lake. A family and friends were traveling in a Starcraft motorboat to Stony Point for supper, when their boat and a Glastron motorboat driven by Harstad collided. Six people in the Starcraft were thrown into the lake north of Star Island.

Harstad was charged with ramming the Starcraft and T-boning it.

All were wearing their life jackets and were rescued by "Good Samaritans" who responded to the scene. Steve Ballou, owner with Julie and Seth Ballou of Break on the Lake Resort, used his boat and GPS to establish the whereabouts of the ejected boaters and help Beltrami County Sheriff's deputies locate and rescue them.

One of the six suffered a broken jaw and two others also suffered substantial bodily injury.

Harstad suffered injuries to his head and chest and was airlifted to St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth. He had been unconscious in his boat, which was traveling in circles on the lake.

One of the charges against Harstad alleged that he had morphine and metabolites of marijuana in his system, as well as alcohol.

Beltrami County Assistant Attorney Randy Burg, who prosecuted the case, said testimony showed that the morphine had been administered on the flight to Duluth, and the marijuana metabolite was from use of the weed long enough before the accident as to have no effect on the user.

Burg said accident reconstruction indicated that the Starcraft had struck Harstad's boat rather than Harstad ramming the Starcraft. The jury acquitted Harstad on grounds that he did not cause the accident.

Judge Paul Benshoof sentenced Harstad Sept. 14 to 90 days in jail with 80 days stayed for two years on the following conditions: He must serve 10 days in jail; serve two years of supervised probation; pay fine and costs of $608; complete chemical dependency assessment and follow recommendations; not drink and drive; not enter establishments where alcohol or controlled substances are sold or served; and undergo random testing.

The Beltrami County Sheriff's Office was assisted by the Cass County Sheriff's Office, Bemidji Ambulance Service, Leech Lake Tribal Police, North Memorial Emergency and Trauma Services Air Care and numerous private citizens.