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Alleged hit-and-run driver faces 5 counts

Driver who fled scene after his truck hit a pedestrian

says it was an accident

By Janice Gregorson

gregor@postbulletin.com

"I got scared,’’ a Rochester man told a district judge Monday when arraigned on criminal charges in connection with a hit-and-run accident Thursday in which a Byron woman was injured.

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James Lee Halverson, 25, of 115 Eighth Ave. S.E., was charged with a gross misdemeanor of failing to stop at an injury accident, two misdemeanor counts of criminal vehicular operation, a misdemeanor count of driving after suspension and a misdemeanor count of uninsured vehicle.

He is accused of fleeing the scene after striking Victoria Lee Gerlach, 46, of Byron, who was walking across Civic Center Drive at Fourth Avenue Northwest about 3:30 p.m. Thursday. She initially was listed in critical condition at Saint Marys Hospital but since has been upgraded.

Halverson, who turned himself in Friday afternoon, told Judge Debra Jacobson that running into the pedestrian was an accident. He said he never has been in a situation like this before. He said he turned himself in to clear his name.

"I didn’t run anybody down. It was an accident,’’ Halverson said.

Jacobson set unconditional bail at $12,000, the maximum allowed by law for this level of offense. Conditional bail was set at $10,000. He returns to court Dec. 17.B

Witnesses called police, reporting that Gerlach had been hit and the truck had fled the scene. Several witnesses gave officers information, including the license plate of the fleeing vehicle. It was registered to Halverson.

A woman walking with Gerlach said they crossed the street when the light turned green. She said Gerlach was about five feet in front of her, and when she got about five feet from the curb, a black pickup came through the intersection and hit Gerlach. The woman said Gerlach tried to run to the curb, but was hit. She said she looked up at the light at that second and noticed it had turned green for the cars on Civic Center Drive. She said she saw Gerlach on the hood of the truck for a moment and then Gerlach flew off the truck about 10 feet or so from the crosswalk.

The complaint says the truck stopped and a female passenger got out, came around to look at the victim, then got back into the truck. The pickup squealed its tires and sped north down Fourth Avenue, she told police. Another witness gave a similar description of events.

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Last Thursday, Halverson was contacted by authorities and admitted driving his truck when he hit the woman. He said he was stopped at the traffic light behind another vehicle and when the light turned green, the car in front of him entered the intersection and his passenger yelled at him to get going. He said he did and hit the woman running across the street in front of him. He said he never saw the woman. Halverson told officers he "just freaked out" and left.

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