Charges in fatal Mounds View hit-and-run detail terror on roadway

The driver was seen speeding, swerving and nearly hitting others before and after the fatal crash.
Donald J. Harris.

Donald J. Harris.

Charges against a 62-year-old Coon Rapids man describe minutes of terror on a suburban roadway, with the suspect speeding and swerving both before and after fatally striking a woman who had been out gardening near the road.

According to the charges filed against Donald J. Harris Wednesday, officers responded to a grisly hit-and-run scene on the 8200 block of Long Lake Road in Mounds View shortly after 1:15 p.m. Tuesday. The victim, a woman who had been out gardening, was found in the road with "mangled limbs" and "lying in a pool of blood." She did not have a pulse.

At the scene, officers found two empty boots in the parking lane along the road, as well as a shattered plastic snow shovel between the boots and the victim's body. There were grass clippings in the street from the yard.

Police have not identified the victim.

Minutes later, Spring Lake police responded to a report of a black SUV that had hit a sign and crashed into a ditch on County Road 10 and Cottagewood Terrace, just a few miles west of the hit-and-run. Officers identified the driver of the black Ford Escape as Harris, the criminal complaint says. The vehicle's windshield was cracked on the driver's and passenger's side, with officers noting blood splatter around the former. Two bottles of alcohol were found in the center console and on the passenger seat.

Witness accounts, gathered by investigators, tell the story laid out in the charges:

One woman told authorities she saw a dark SUV that had been behind her vehicle pass, by speeding into the northbound parking lane where a woman was out doing yard work. The SUV struck the woman and the suspect never slowed, even after the collision. The witness called 911 and later identified the suspect vehicle as a Ford Escape.

A second witness was driving northbound on Long Lake Road and saw a dark SUV with a broken windshield speeding. When she noticed someone had been hit, she did a U-turn and went to check on the victim. But when she approached, she realized it was bad and could not get closer.

A third witness turned west onto Long Lake Road from Eastwood Road, a few blocks from the hit-and-run. While on that road, a black Ford Escape heading the other direction — but in the witness' lane — nearly struck her vehicle. She had to swerve into the grass to avoid a collision with the SUV, which she said was driving "extremely fast" and did not have a crack in the windshield. The witness got back on the road, headed south and saw the same Ford Escape, now with a smashed windshield on the driver's side. She followed the SUV onto Mounds View Boulevard, saying it was swerving all over the road, until the driver crashed into a sign, then into a ditch.

Two more witnesses reported similar accounts to police. One was almost rear-ended by the Ford Escape on Mounds View Boulevard, and she watched it swerve all over, then she called police. Another followed the black Ford Escape after almost being sideswiped, and managed to film some of the erratic driving behavior before it crashed into a ditch. He went to check on the driver, whose description matched Harris, and noted bottles of alcohol in his hands. 

Investigators later found blood and hair in cracks of the windshield on the driver's side, with the hair matching the color of the victim's, charges state. Inside the vehicle, they found cigarettes and a small baggie with suspected cocaine. No skid marks were found at the scene of the hit-and-run. 

After the final wreck, Harris had trouble using his phone and had problems balancing. A preliminary breath test came back with a BAC of 0.000. Authorities obtained a warrant to take a blood sample from Harris at Regions Hospital. The results were not included in the criminal complaint.

Harris is charged with two counts of felony criminal vehicular homicide — one for operating a vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, the other for leaving the scene of a crash. Each carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine. 

Harris declined to speak to investigators.

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