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Jury acquits northern Minnesota man of backing over, causing death of woman

AITKIN, Minn.—A 62-year-old Deerwood man accused of backing over a northern Minnesota woman in 2016, causing her death, was acquitted.

Timothy Paul Kostal was charged in Aitkin County District Court with two misdemeanors of careless driving and for backing up on a roadway on June 10, 2016, the day of the fatal incident. Margaret Ann Johnson, 85, of Aitkin, was found dead on the shoulder of Highway 47 about 3.5 miles east of Aitkin. She was found near the end of her driveway by her mailbox.

Kostal was acquitted on the careless driving charge Thursday, June 21, by a jury after a three-and-a-half day trial at the Aitkin County Courthouse, Kostal's attorney Daniel Hawley of Gammello-Pearson in Baxter reported in a news release. The other misdemeanor was dismissed, court records stated.

According to the criminal complaint filed in Aitkin County District Court, at about 12:57 p.m. June 10, 2016, a woman called and reported a person was just hit on Highway 47. About one minute later, Kostal called the Aitkin County Sheriff's Office and reported a woman lying along Highway 47 near the end of a driveway. The responding deputy saw a variety of cuts, bruises and scratches on Johnson, who was pronounced dead at 1:44 p.m.

On June 11, 2016, the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office determined Johnson's cause of death to be multiple traumatic injuries due to an automobile-pedestrian collision.

On June 14, 2016, a Minnesota State Patrol investigator spoke with the woman who first reported the incident. The woman said she saw a white diesel pickup truck parked south of where Johnson was laying. The woman saw a man standing on the road who then went back to the truck.

The investigator spoke to Kostal, who said he saw Johnson laying on the side of the road and drove past her before he stopped. He then backed up and got out of his truck to check on Johnson. Kostal told the investigator he did not think he ran over Johnson, but he must have.

On June 27, 2016, investigators again interviewed Kostal who described driving by Johnson after seeing her laying on the side of the road. He then backed up until he could see Johnson's vehicle parked in the driveway. He then pulled forward before getting out of his truck. He said he did not realize until after speaking with officers he could have backed over Johnson "and expressed remorse at the possibility."

At trial, jurors heard Kostal's truck was forensically tested by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. After a thorough analysis, no hair follicles or blood linked Kostal's vehicle to Johnson's death, Hawley stated.

"To the contrary, jurors heard evidence that paint flecks detected on Johnson's clothing could not have come from Kostal's vehicle," Hawley stated. "In addition, no explanation was ever provided regarding why Johnson was laying by the side of the highway to begin with. Kostal maintained his innocence during the investigation and throughout the trial and jurors agreed by rendering a not guilty verdict."

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