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Harstad pleads guilty on Mandelko charges

Fri, Jan 24th, 2003
Posted in Features

Andrew Todd Harstad, 20, of rural Harmony, plead guilty in Fillmore County District Court on Tuesday to one count of felony Criminal Vehicular Homicide stemming from an incident on May 26, 2000 which resulted in the death of Justin Delbert Mandelko of rural Preston. Harstad was charged with causing the death of Mandelko by operating a motor vehicle in a negligent manner while under the influence of alcohol.Under questioning by defense attorney, Craig Cascarano, the defendant told the court that on the night of May 25 he and some friends from Fillmore Central High School had been drinking beer at the Mandelko residence.In the early morning hours of May 26, the group went to the Kevin Johnson residence in rural Harmony. Johnsons son had been with the group earlier in the evening. While at the Johnson residence, Harstad took an ATV belonging to Kevin Johnson without permission. Justin Mandelko got on the back of the ATV driven by Harstad. The accident took place on a gravel road off of Highway 44 near Bristol.The defendant admitted that alcohol played a part in the events of that night.Would any of this have happened if alcohol wasnt involved? Cascarano asked. No, Harstad replied.Under cross-examination by Winona County Attorney Chuck MacLean, Harstad said he did not recall the events of the accident and that he suffered partial memory loss. Harstads guilty plea was part of an agreement with the state, where the felony count for Criminal Vehicular Homicide would not be adjudicated and Harstad would be placed on five years probation. Two other felony counts of Criminal Vehicular Homicide would be dropped. Harstad also plead guilty to Driving Under the Influence, a misdemeanor, and to Motor Vehicle Use Without Consent, a felony. A stay of imposition will be granted on these two counts with Harstad receiving one year probation for the DUI offense and five years probation for the motor vehicle use. All probationary periods will run concurrently. Harstad will be eligible for early discharge after 18 months if he complies with all conditions of the probation. After listening to the proceedings, Judge James Fabian said that there was sufficient evidence for the charges. Fabian questioned Harstad at length as to his understanding of the plea agreement. Fabian emphasized that in the event that Harstad does not successfully complete the stay of adjudication, the plea of guilty to criminal vehicular homicide will be entered and sentencing imposed. Fabian is expected to complete final sentencing sometime in March. While Tuesdays court case ends the criminal proceedings surrounding the death of Justin Mandelko, there are civil suits pending in the case.The Mandelko family has filed a wrongful death suit against Harstad and Kevin Johnson. A settlement hearing is scheduled on this suit for February 10. Another suit has been filed by Farmers Home Mutual Insurance Company against all parties in the case to prevent claims being brought against the company. Farmers Home states in their suit that the company doesnt provide Harstad coverage of liability for the events of May 26, 2000.

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