Sedlmeier makes first appearance, details emerge in fatal crashThe man alleged to have caused a crash Saturday in Mitchell that resulted in the death of 9-year-old Iszabella "Bella" Morgan appeared in court Monday as new details emerged about the incident.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
The man alleged to have caused a crash Saturday in Mitchell that resulted in the death of 9-year-old Iszabella "Bella" Morgan appeared in court Monday as new details emerged about the incident.
Authorities allege Michael Sedlmeier, 46, fled from police after he was spotted driving 47 mph in downtown Mitchell. A police affidavit states Sedlmeier admitted to drinking on a golf course prior to the crash and told law enforcement he drank “quite a bit” of alcohol the previous night. Sedlmeier was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.206 shortly after his arrest. The legal driving limit in South Dakota is 0.08.
Sedlmeier made his initial court appearance Monday and was charged with five felonies: vehicular homicide, third-offense drunken driving, aggravated eluding, hit-and-run resulting in injury or death, and six counts of vehicular battery. He was also charged with reckless driving, a misdemeanor. He is scheduled to have his preliminary hearing in April.
Court documents show addresses in both Mitchell and Alexandria for Sedlmeier. He is being held at the Davison County Jail with bond set at $250,000.
The Mitchell law firm Tinan, Smith and Bucher has been assigned to represent Sedlmeier as his court-appointed counsel.
The grieving process continued Monday as a memorial of flowers, cards, balloons and stuffed animals grew at the downtown intersection where Saturday’s fatal car crash happened.
“Once these kids are in your life, they’re always in your life,” said Heather Grabenstein, Morgan’s former kindergarten teacher at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, who visited the memorial site. “I remember her bright smile. That’s what I remember seeing around school.”
Further details regarding the fatal crash could be found in court documents made public Monday.
An affidavit recounting the incident states Mitchell police officer Russell Stevenson clocked Sedlmeier traveling 47 mph before attempting the traffic stop. The affidavit does not say exactly where Sedlmeier’s vehicle was when Stevenson spotted it.
A chase ensued, with Sedlmeier making a number of turns in his vehicle, a red 1998 Ford Taurus, before allegedly running the stop sign at the intersection of Duff Street and First Avenue and colliding with a black 2006 GMC Yukon Denali occupied by Morgan and five others at 2:53 p.m., authorities said.
The crash occurred about a block away from the city of Mitchell’s Public Safety Building, where the city’s police, fire, ambulance and communication divisions are housed.
Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg said the chase lasted only about 60 seconds and the crash occurred with Stevenson about five blocks behind Sedlmeier, because Stevenson had to yield to cross traffic.
“Had he called off the pursuit, I don’t think it would have changed the suspect’s driving habits one bit,” Overweg said. “There is only one person to blame for this accident, and that is Mr. Sedlmeier.”
Overweg said an internal review of the incident will be completed, as is policy with any chase involving Mitchell police.
Authorities said the others in the Denali — Misty Zilla, 34; Rose Hilleson, 63; Alexis Mentzel, 12; McKenna Mentzel, 9; and Brielle Zilla, eight months — suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries in the crash. All were treated and released from Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell.
All occupants of the Denali were from Mitchell. Authorities have not yet revealed whether the Denali occupants were wearing seat belts, but an affidavit in the court file says two of the occupants were ejected from the Denali.
Sedlmeier attempted to flee the scene of the crash on foot, police said, but was chased down and arrested by Stevenson. Sedlmeier suffered minor injuries in the crash, authorities said, and he refused treatment.
Sedlmeier was then turned over to South Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Grant Lubbers, who observed Sedlmeier to have a flushed face, glassed-over eyes and a smell of alcohol, an affidavit reads.
For the most serious charge against him, vehicular homicide, Sedlmeier could receive 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine, and for each of the six counts of vehicular battery he could receive 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Additional penalties could stem from the four other charges against him.
Sedlmeier has two previous DUI convictions, the most recent of which occurred on March 24, 2005 — seven years ago to the day of Saturday’s events.
For his second drunken driving conviction, he was sentenced to serve 15 days in jail, fined $530 and had his driver’s license revoked for one year. Charges of attempting to elude police, reckless driving and failure to stop at an intersection were dismissed.
His first DUI arrest occurred April 28, 2004, for which he had all jail time suspended, was fined $300 and had his license revoked for 30 days.
Sedlmeier’s criminal record also includes a misdemeanor conviction in 2010 for stalking and another misdemeanor conviction in 2005 for simple assault.
Details also emerged Monday about Morgan.
Her obituary says she was the daughter of Jeanie Morgan and Ryan Anderson, and was born Sept. 6, 2002, in Mitchell. She grew up in Mitchell and attended Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, where she was a third-grader.
She was an energetic, outgoing girl who enjoyed singing, playing with her Barbies and baby dolls, doing her nails, feeding the birds and wearing her aunt Vanessa’s high heels, the obituary says.
“She loved and cherished her big brother, Spencer, and was always happy and full of life. She was a true diva, and loved being the center of attention. Bella loved to dance and was currently dancing with the Linda Feterl’s Dancers,” reads the obituary.
The impact of Saturday’s events could be felt around Mitchell on Monday.
As students returned to Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary on Monday, district administration and faculty had a plan in place to provide counseling or other assistance to those affected.
Mitchell School District Superintendent Joe Graves said he met with members of the faculty at Gertie Belle Rogers on Sunday and decided teachers would read an announcement about Saturday’s events, and additional counselors from the district would be brought to the school, with one assigned specifically to Morgan’s class, taught by Mary Marchand.
The Daily Republic attempted to contact Marchand on Monday, but was told by school staff that Graves was handling all questions from the media.
Graves said the Mitchell School District has crisis management plans in place to handle situations of this type.
Funeral services for Morgan will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Holy Family Catholic Church, with visitation from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Will Funeral Chapel. A candlelight vigil is planned from 8 to 9 p.m. today at the corner of Duff Street and First Avenue.
A collection for Morgan’s family has been started at Bean Box Espresso in Mitchell, which is co-owned by Zilla, who was driving the car in which Morgan was a passenger. A memorial fund has been established in Morgan’s name at U.S. Bank in Mitchell.