By Nick Ferraro
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
OWATONNA — A truck driver is scheduled to appear in Steele County District Court next month on charges that his negligence led to a landscaping block falling off his trailer and killing a 17-year-old boy last summer.
Darrell W. Jensen is accused of not securing pallets of cement blocks properly, resulting in one block bouncing on an Owatonna, Minn., highway, smashing through the windshield of a minivan traveling the opposite direction and striking Steven K. Batt of Waseca, Minn., in the head.
Jensen, 41, of Medford, Minn., faces charges of criminal vehicular homicide and second-degree manslaughter, both felonies, as well as misdemeanor charges of failing to secure a load, leaking load and damaged securement devices.
“Based on the information we have, this incident was easily avoidable,” Steele County Attorney Dan McIntosh said.
Jensen was a truck driver for Mendota Heights-based Cemstone Products Co. at the time of the Aug. 3 accident, according to the Dec. 27 criminal complaint, as well as during a 2009 incident in which a block fell off his truck and damaged a car on Interstate 35W in Burnsville.
Jensen, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, pleaded guilty to the 2009 offense and paid a $300 fine in Dakota County District Court, court records show.
Jensen was in violation of five federal regulations that govern securing cargo during the Owatonna accident, according to the criminal complaint.
A trooper with the State Patrol’s commercial vehicle section inspected Jensen’s trailer and noted damaged straps, loose metal edging reinforcement and a load that was insufficiently tied down to prevent movement given the weight of each pallet of blocks, the complaint states. Each pallet weighed about 2,120 pounds, the 36 blocks on each weighing about 59 pounds.
In addition, the pallets were loaded with space between them.
An accident reconstruction report concluded that Jensen’s failure to secure the pallets resulted in the block falling off, according to the complaint.
Batt, who died at the scene, was a front-seat passenger in a Dodge Caravan driven by his friend Steven M. Masberg, 16, also of Waseca. Masberg was not injured and was able to drive to the side of the road.
Jensen told a trooper at the accident scene that he checked his mirrors often to make sure the load was not shifting, according to the complaint. He said as he went around a curve, he saw the block fall off.
Jensen said he had personally secured the load before leaving Mankato, according to the charges. He said that after he realized a block fell off, he placed another strap on the load “to make sure nothing else moved.”
Cemstone’s safety director, Mike Brekken, did not return calls Wednesday from the Pioneer Press seeking comment about the two incidents involving Jensen.
In an e-mail to the Pioneer Press, Tim Becken, the company’s senior vice president of operations, called the August accident “tragic.”
“No one feels worse than Mr. Jensen and everyone at Cemstone, and our sympathies continue to be for the family,” he wrote.
Becken did not respond to a follow-up e-mail from the Pioneer Press asking whether Jensen is still employed with Cemstone.
Jensen, who was charged by summons, is scheduled to make an initial appearance in Steele County District Court on Feb. 28.
If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine for each of the two felony charges and 90 days in jail and $1,000 fine for each of the three misdemeanor counts.