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'My mistake was not squealing on him'

By John Weiss

weiss@postbulletin.com

WINONA -- In retrospect, Susan Mary Ruhoff said she should have called Jonathan Mraz's mother the night she saw him fall on the floor at her home, apparently intoxicated.

Instead, she said Friday in Winona District Court, that she put the Lewiston-Altura High School student on a couch in her home where other students had gathered on Oct. 18, 2003, to watch replays of a local football game.

An intoxicated Mraz apparently later walked out of the house and was killed by a train. It is possible the alcohol he drank came from her home, she said.

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For her part in Mraz's death and for not keeping control of the alcohol in her home, Ruhoff pleaded guilty to three gross misdemeanor charges Friday. She said she did not knowingly furnish alcohol to the boy, but she didn't take adequate care to keep her alcohol out of hands of minors.

Several other charges, including a felony connected with Mraz's death, will be dismissed after the presentence investigation and sentencing. Sentencing is scheduled for 2 p.m. June 8.

Under questioning after her plea, Ruhoff said she never bought alcohol for the teenagers who would come to her house to hang out with her children, eat and watch football. But even before that, she said she had hints that teens were drinking alcohol at her home. She found empty beer cans, but got conflicting answers when she asked the teens about them.

Ruhoff said she works long hours and was too tired to stay up while the teens were at her home. They were free to take food from the fridge, but not alcohol, she said. Ruhoff said she is aware adults have an obligation to keep minors from drinking alcohol.

The night Mraz died, Ruhoff said she met him near her door. He fell on the floor, and she thought he might be intoxicated. Instead of calling his mother, Ruhoff put him on the couch, she said. "My mistake was not squealing on him," she said.

While Mraz seemed intoxicated, "there was no sign of alcohol drinking when I came home that night," she said. She believes at least some of the alcohol was brought into her home.

When those at the party realized Mraz had left but his shoes, car and cell phone were still at the Ruhoff home, they went looking for him, she said. When they learned Mraz had been hit by a train, "I couldn't go down there," she said.

In looking back at that night, "I feel it was my fault," she said.

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