Judge: Blood draws OK in Charles Mix County case
PICKSTOWN — A Charles Mix County judge will allow blood evidence showing Ronald Fischer Jr. was intoxicated when his vehicle struck and killed two pedestrians in July 2013 in Pickstown.
According to Judge Bruce Anderson's decision, filed Thursday, he denied Fischer's motions to suppress evidence gathered from blood draws and medical records. Anderson, however, granted Fischer's motion to suppress the law enforcement blood draw taken at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls.
"This court has ruled that the law enforcement blood draw at the Wagner Community Hospital is constitutional due to the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement," Anderson wrote.
The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled in August that blood drawn from suspected drunk drivers without their permission or without a warrant is unconstitutional. Fischer's case was put on hold until the Supreme Court made its decision in a similar case out of Sioux Falls involving Shauna Fierro, who was arrested in August 2013 for driving a motorcycle under the influence. A lower court ruled to exclude her blood draw as evidence, which was upheld by the S.D. Supreme Court.
Fischer is still scheduled to appear in court trial at the end of this month in Lake Andes. Fischer and his attorney, Tim Whalen, of Lake Andes, chose to waive Fischer's right to a jury trial and to have Judge Anderson conduct the trial instead.
On July 8, 2013, Dr. Robert Klumb, 46, of Pierre, and his assistant Maegan Spindler, 25, of Cazenovia, N.Y., were in Pickstown doing field work on the Missouri River. Both worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service out of Pierre.
Around 8:45 p.m., Fischer, 29, of Lake Andes, was driving a Chrysler Town & Country van, which failed to stop at the T-intersection and continued into the parking lot where Klumb and Spindler were unloading a boat.
According to the decision released Thursday, the enormous impact of the crash caused a large scattered debris field, "which included body parts from both victims."
Gregg Spindler, father of Spindler, said in an email Thursday to The Daily Republic this was the first time he and his family heard Maegan Spinder had been dismembered in the crash.
"This did not appear in the evidence briefs last fall and the person that reviewed the police report with us did not mention this -- we had asked for that 'sanitized version,' " Gregg Spindler wrote. "Needless to say, it was not entirely unexpected, given the violence of what happens when a person is struck down at highway speed. But reading this about our daughter will not make for an easy night for us."
The night of the crash, at least four blood draws were taken from Fischer -- one by medical personnel at Wagner Community Hospital; one by law enforcement at Wagner Community Hospital; one by law enforcement at Avera McKennan Hospital and one by medical personnel at Avera McKennan.
Judge Anderson decided the medical draw and the law enforcement draw at Wagner will not be suppressed as evidence, but the draw by law enforcement at McKennan will be suppressed.
Anderson concluded the draw by a doctor in Wagner was not influenced by law enforcement, so Fourth Amendment requirements don't apply. Plus, Fischer agreed to have his medical records released, which waived the doctor-patient privilege over the documents. According to the decision, the medical documents show Fischer's blood-alcohol level was 0.274. South Dakota's legal driving limit is 0.08.
Anderson wrote in his decision that "law enforcement had probable cause to arrest Defendant or to obtain a sample of his blood." He also wrote that law enforcement had reason to believe Fischer had consumed alcohol, his blood would provide evidence of his consumption of alcohol and that alcohol was the reason for the crash.
A blood draw taken by medical personnel at Avera McKennan will be admitted as evidence as Anderson found a judge in that district issued a warrant for the records, the sample was taken strictly for medical reasons and Fischer agreed to the release of his medical records.
"This certainly is not the outcome of the suppression hearing we were looking for, but it is what it is, and we have to move on and deal with it," Whalen told The Daily Republic Thursday.
Whalen said he expects the trial will go on as planned. At this time, Whalen said he doesn't plan on filing an appeal, but won't rule out that possibility later on.
"I'm pleased that the Court has denied Fischer's motion to suppress the two separate blood alcohol test results, beyond that, I cannot comment further on the evidence of an ongoing criminal prosecution," said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley.
As for Gregg Spindler, he and his family are just trying to heal wounds that are continually opened with each turn in the case.
"We hope for a swift conclusion to the criminal matter and pray that Fischer receives a sentence commensurate with the 60 years of life he took from Maegan and the 40 years he took from Rob," Gregg Spindler wrote. "It does not bring 'closure'; there never will be such a thing."