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An 18-year-old from Proctor, Minnesota has been charged with causing a fatal crash that killed a mother and seriously injured her 11-year-old son.

Jesse James Kowalczak was in a 40 mph zone allegedly driving at between 72-89 mph in foggy conditions at the time of the May 13 crash.

Kowalczak crashed into another vehicle near S. Ugstad Road and Ugstad Junction in Midway Township, killing 48-year-old Leah Sarko, of Duluth.

Leah was known as a "devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend," according to a fundraiser to help the family. Her husband, Tim, said she and their 11-year-old son were on their way to meet him for a parent-teacher conference that morning.

According to the complaint, Sarko was stopped at a stop sign at about 8:45 a.m. on May 13. She was turning left when Kowalczak smashed into her. The complaint states the heavy fog at the time may have prevented Sarko from seeing the speeding car until it was too late.

By the time responders arrived to the crash scene, Sarko had already died. Her 11-year-old son was found outside of the vehicle, severely injured. According to the complaint, he was heard "calling for his mother" as neighbors in the area tried to assist him. He was taken to a nearby hospital where doctors determined the boy suffered several fractures and a concussion.

Sarko's car was found about 70 yards away from where the impact occurred.

Kowalczak wasn't able to interview with authorities immediately due to injuries he suffered in the crash. He was taken to a nearby medical facility for treatment.

An investigation determined that Kowalczak's driving combined with the weather was to blame for the crash. 

A blood test showed a presence of controlled substances, however, it was taken about 3.5 hours after the crash. The complaint states medical treatment had already started prior to that, therefore it's possible the controlled substances related to the medical treatment he received.

Kowalczak has been charged with criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation causing great bodily harm. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 9, 2023.

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