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Spirit Lake man to make court appearance for criminal vehicular operation

WORTHINGTON -- A Spirit Lake, Iowa man charged with criminal vehicular operation is scheduled to make a first court appearance next week. The charges, filed last week, stem from a car crash in February.

Donny Jay Utley, 49, is charged with two counts of criminal vehicular operation and two counts of third-degree driving while impaired after rolling his pickup Feb. 4. A woman in the passenger seat was thrown from the vehicle and severely injured.

The criminal complaint states a trooper for the Minnesota State Patrol was dispatched shortly before 10 p.m. Feb. 4 to a personal injury accident on I-90 near mile marker 42. The trooper noted a light snow falling and accumulating on the road. At the scene, the trooper found a man standing on the side of the road with deputies and ambulance crew. He was later identified as Utley.

According to the trooper's observations, Utley smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes.

Utley allegedly told the trooper his passenger had removed her seat belt to reach for something in the back of the vehicle, then he had veered off the road and "just lost it."

The passenger, Utley's girlfriend, was ejected from the vehicle and found on the north shoulder of westbound I-90. She had a broken right femur, fractures to her head and face, broken ribs, missing teeth and a collapsed lung. She was transported to Sanford Regional Hospital Worthington, then airlifted to Sioux Falls, S.D. in critical condition.

A preliminary breath test showed Utley allegedly had a blood alcohol content of .167 percent. He allegedly told the officer he had consumed beer while waiting for his girlfriend's plane to arrive at the Sioux Falls airport. A blood draw two hours later came back with a .15 blood alcohol content.

During questioning the following day, Utley allegedly said he had consumed two 20-ounce draft beers in about 35 minutes while waiting at the airport. He did not feel the beer affected his ability to drive, but stated he didn't realize the road was slippery.

He allegedly denied drinking alcohol in the vehicle and said he hadn't had anything to drink for a couple of hours before the crash.

An examination of his driving history showed a valid license in Iowa and a suspended Virginia driver's license. Utley had a prior driving while impaired conviction in 2006 in Virginia.

A review of medical records revealed the victim suffered multiple traumatic injuries after being ejected and thrown across two traffic lanes at approximately 70 miles per hour. Because of her serious condition, she was in a coma for several weeks after the crash and unable to communicate about the case. In late March, the trooper was able to speak with the victim, who said she remembered being in the front seat and reaching for something in the back. Her next memory, she said, was of waking up in the hospital three weeks later.

Utley is scheduled to make a first appearance Tuesday in Nobles County District Court at the Prairie Justice Center.