Woman denies furnishing alcohol to teen
By John Weiss
WINONA -- A Lewiston woman accused of supplying alcohol to a Lewiston-Altura high school student hours before he was killed by a train a year ago contends she wasn't home when the teenager was drinking and tried to stop him from leaving the house when she realized he had been drinking.
Susan Mary Ruhoff, 43, is charged in Winona District Court with six counts of furnishing alcohol to friends of her children who would come to her house after football games. She is accused of furnishing alcohol to Jonathan Mraz, 17, on Oct. 18, 2003. He was later struck and killed by a train. Tests found he had alcohol and marijuana in his blood.
The complaints allege Ruhoff furnished alcohol to people younger than 21 on Aug. 29, Sept. 5, Sept. 12, Sept. 19, Oct. 3, Oct. 15 and Oct. 18.
During her omnibus hearing on Thursday, Ruhoff's attorney, Gary Gittus of Rochester, said the investigation and interviews with witnesses show inconsistencies and contradictions. He asked Winona District Judge Margaret Shaw Johnson to review the files and interviews and find there's not enough evidence to show Ruhoff furnished alcohol. If that is the judge's ruling, Gittus will ask that charges be dropped.
In court and during a later interview, Gittus said Ruhoff didn't know the high school students were getting alcohol and wasn't home when Mraz came to her house on Oct. 18.
Ruhoff, who had children in the school system, often had parties at her home, Gittus said. "They were parties, but they weren't alcohol parties," he said.
On the night Mraz died, Ruhoff had promised the teenagers she would make barbecue but was late getting home; the students were there to watch a replay of the football game that was played that day.
"She had no idea what was going on," Gittus said. The party sprang up without her knowing about it, he said.
When Ruhoff realized Mraz had been drinking, she tried to make him stay at her house, Gittus said. "Ultimately, he wandered off" and was hit by the train, he said.
Investigators talked to people who were at the party and their stories were "back and forth all over the map," Gittus said. "The record is so unreliable."
Shaw Johnson asked the attorneys to provide briefs to her by early December, and she said she will take the matter under advisement.