No indictment filed in Hejlik crash

Gannon Hejlik
by April Scheinoha
Reporter
 
   A Pennington County grand jury has decided not to file an indictment against a Thief River Falls woman involved in a crash that killed a Thief River Falls boy in July.
   The grand jury determined there wasn’t enough evidence for charges against Tammy Martha Johnson, 52.
    Johnson was driving a 1998 Dodge Ram eastbound on Greenwood Street at about 5:53 p.m. Monday, July 18. Her pickup truck then struck Gannon Hejlik, 14, while he was riding his bicycle southbound in a crosswalk on the east side of Oakland Park Road. Stop signs are located on Oakland Park Road.
   Hejlik, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, suffered a head injury. He was airlifted to Sanford Hospital in Fargo, N.D., where he died from his injuries early the next morning.
   By law, at least 16 people serve on a grand jury, which meets behind closed doors to hear the prosecution’s evidence and decide whether to indict. Pennington County Attorney Al Rogalla noted at least 12 people have to vote in favor before an indictment is filed.
   Police and sheriff's office incident reports and supplemental reports on the matter noted that Hejlik’s cell phone was found lying near him. It was open to the Pokemon GO app. The reports noted that Hejlik received a notification from the app at 5:44 p.m., nine minutes before the crash was reported. A supplemental report said, "It does not appear that Gannon made any comments in the Pokemon GO group at this time, but the app was active on his phone.”
    The reports indicated that Johnson said she wasn’t on her cell phone at the time. Her cell phone showed she tried calling another phone number around the time that she and others called 911 about the crash. She told the investigator that she was trying to call a friend since a police officer encouraged her to have someone give her a ride home.

    At the time of the crash, Johnson said, she saw two cars on her right and was making sure they wouldn’t drive onto Greenwood Street. Johnson said Hejlik then suddenly appeared in front of her. On the 911 call, Johnson sounded frantic and she said numerous times that she didn’t see Hejlik.
    While speaking with the police investigator the following day, Johnson said she knew Hejlik’s father and asked the police investigator to talk to him on her behalf. She wanted the police investigator to let him know that she didn’t intentionally hit the boy, was sorry and was praying for them.
     Several witnesses were also interviewed. Two drivers were traveling on Greenwood Street. One motorist said he was about a block behind Johnson. A second motorist, who is employed as a nurse practitioner, was the second vehicle behind Johnson. He provided aid to Hejlik. Neither saw Hejlik riding his bike before the accident.
     A northbound motorist was stopped at the intersection. She saw the accident unfold. The woman said she was focused on Hejlik crossing the street, and then Johnson suddenly appeared. She said she didn’t see whether Hejlik was holding his cell phone.
     The incident report included supplemental reports from Deputy Brady Meunier. One supplemental report indicated that he was asked by Rogalla in October, three months after the accident, why Pokemon GO wasn’t mentioned in his report. He spoke with Rogalla about the issue on Tuesday, Oct. 18. Meunier indicated that he wrote his report the morning after the crash. He wrote that he was “told by either Police Chief Dick Wittenberg or Sergeant Doug Williams that they did not want me to include it in my report as they did not want national news here on the case. I told Rogalla that I believe it was Chief Wittenberg, but I cannot say with 100% certainty. I then told that officer that I would not lie on my report as I would not ruin my career for it. The officer then told me it would not be lying as I would just be leaving something out and not lying about what had happened.”
    Meunier, who was new at the time, then wrote his report without that information since “a well respected officer had told me it was fine it was okay to do that.”
    Williams had also written a report about the incident. His report, last modified July 19, refers to Pokemon.
    In his second report, Meunier wrote that Rogalla said “it was, in fact, a big deal to leave something out. Sheriff [Ray] Kuznia was also present at this conversation.” He wrote that Kuznia told him if something similar happens in the future, he should notify Kuznia, who would handle it. Kuznia also advised him to “never leave anything out in the future."
    Since the report surfaced in public view, Wittenberg wrote that, shortly after the accident, social media reported the Pokemon app had been open on Hejlik’s phone. He was concerned that confidential information was being released to the public and would jeopardize the investigation.
    “Our officers’ reports, now made public by the Pennington County prosecutor, clearly show that our officers understood then and understand today, the importance of this information and include it in their reports,” Wittenberg wrote.
    The next morning, Wittenberg wrote, he reminded law enforcement that the information about Pokemon should not be released except through established department channels as the investigation was still ongoing.
    “It now appears that words I delivered privately several times to small groups of officers within the Law Enforcement Center on July 19, the day after the accident, were misunderstood by one sheriff’s deputy,” Wittenberg wrote.
    Wittenberg added that he never meant to “convey to any officers not to include this information in their confidential police reports. Suggesting otherwise makes no sense since there are multiple references to this information in investigation reports by multiple officers in my department, and both cell phones from the involved parties were taken as evidence and the contents downloaded by a police department investigator.”

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