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Witnesses testify about crash that killed Klumb, Spindler

LAKE ANDES -- Blue tarps and yellow flags dotted the golf course at Randall Hills Golf Club in Pickstown the evening of July 8, 2013. Those tarps covered body parts from Rob Klumb and Maegan Spindler, employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Pierre.

Klumb, 46, of Pierre, and Spindler, 25, of Cazenovia, N.Y., died that day when a Dodge Caravan collided with them at highway speed in the parking lot of the Dakota Inn at Pickstown.

The van was driven by Ronald Fischer Jr., now 30, of Lake Andes.

"Rob was great to work for. He was a fun and caring guy for all his employees," said Dan James, slightly choking up. James is also a USFWS employee who was working with Klumb and Spindler the day of the crash.

Fischer is standing trial for the deaths of Klumb and Spindler. James testified Monday at the Charles Mix County Courthouse in Lake Andes, during the first day of Fischer's trial. The trial is scheduled to last two or three days. Fischer is charged with two counts of first-degree manslaughter, two counts of vehicular homicide, one count of drunken driving and one count of ingesting a non-alcoholic substance to become intoxicated.

South Dakota Assistant Attorney Generals Brent Kempema and Jeff Tronvold called witnesses Monday who described the scene of the crash and what happened after.

James testified that on the day of the crash, employees had finished a long day on the Missouri River doing research on the endangered pallid sturgeon, which was Klumb's specialty.

The state showed exhibit photos on a large television, including candid photos of Klumb and Spindler. James described Spindler as "extremely enthusiastic about her work" and a great colleague.

James said he, Spindler and Klumb were standing by their USFWS boat and truck when he heard an increasingly loud sound from the north.

"I had just enough time to say, 'Watch out. Watch out,' " James said.

The vehicle Fischer was driving missed James. When James turned back to see if Klumb and Spindler were all right, they weren't there -- he found them seconds later lying in the grass on the nearby golf course, body parts scattered.

"I remember Rob looked funny," James said of when he first found Klumb.

James testified Klumb's legs were amputated below the knees. He then found Spindler. She had been disemboweled from the impact of the crash.

James said he never saw anyone leave the van Fischer was driving and could see the driver was still inside. James called 911.

Physician's assistant Merritt Groh was playing golf on the sixth hole when the crash occurred. He ran over and found Klumb and Spindler to be beyond help. Groh testified Klumb's head was severely injured, and Klumb was dead when Groh arrived. Spindler was face down and had a rapid, weak pulse.

Groh said he then helped stabilize and extricate Fischer from the van he was driving.

Medical personnel transported Fischer to Wagner Community Hospital while law enforcement continued to preserve evidence at the scene by placing tarps over debris and evidence.

Charles Mix County Sheriff Randy Thaler testified about several photos the state showed of the scene. Photos of the USFWS truck showed blood on the tailgate, top of the cab and side of the truck that Spindler and Klumb were standing next to. When the van struck Klumb and Spindler, both were sent flying. The cab of the truck was dented where Klumb's body crashed into it and photos showed pieces of Klumb's scalp left inside the truck where the rear window shattered. A blood trail was shown in one photo along the side of another USFWS boat.

South Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Casey Bassett also responded to the scene and headed the investigation. The state presented more graphic photographs from the scene, including two photographs of nine to 11 small tarps with flags next to them.

"Those show the position of debris, mostly coming from the victims' bodies," Bassett said.

Bassett added he had to search for body parts, including Klumb's feet, legs and scalp.

The state chose to not show graphic photos of Klumb's and Spindler's bodies on a large screen, and instead handed physical photographs to Bassett for testimony.

Bassett said the photos clearly depict where the victims' bodies came to rest and the injuries they suffered.

The state plans to call the rest of its witnesses today, and the defense will present its case when the state is finished.

Spindler's family -- dad Gregg, mom Susan and sister Tamara, and uncles Bill and Steve Spindler -- attended the first day of the trial. When James described how he found Spindler, the family displayed a range of emotions. Some cried. At times, family members left the room, choosing not to view the photographs. In an interview last week with The Daily Republic, Gregg Spindler said he hopes the case gets substantial media coverage to show the devastation drunk driving can cause. He also hopes Fischer is convicted of manslaughter, which is the more serious charge.

The manslaughter charges each carry a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $50,000. Vehicular homicide carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. The drunken driving and ingesting charges are misdemeanors.

Dan Klumb, brother to Rob Klumb, said the family is following the trial as closely as they can. Family and career obligations are a few reasons the Klumbs are not attending the trial.

"There is nothing we can contribute by being there," Dan Klumb said. "We're not disputing facts (at trial), we'd just be sitting there. There is nothing positive that can come from hearing these horrible things that happened to Maegan and Rob."

He added his family intends to make a statement the day Judge Bruce Anderson issues his written decision on the case. His family also plans to attend the sentencing hearing and will make a statement there, as well.

When the proceedings are over, Anderson will decide whether to convict Fischer of any of the charges he faces because Fischer waived his right to a jury trial.