Driver in fatal L’Anse crash over legal limit



Daily Mining Gazette

L’ANSE — The Illinois man accused of having been behind the wheel during a fatal October crash at the holiday gas station tested at nearly twice the legal blood-alcohol level more than two hours after the crash, according to a Michigan State Police report.

Dawaun Johnson, 22, told police he had been dozing off before he veered off U.S. Highway 41 and into the fuel pumps at the station around 11:30 p.m. Oct. 12. The crash killed Al Dantes of L’Anse, who was fueling his truck at the time. A Holiday employee inside the store was also injured in the crash.

Johnson, a driver for CR England, said he had been mentoring a trainee, who had been driving for nearly all of the day.

They had started the day around 9 a.m. in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, before driving down to Joliet, Illinois to pick up a load, Johnson told police. They left there around 1 or 2 p.m. Central time to make a delivery to Houghton.

Johnson took over driving about half an hour before the crash, because his trainee was approaching his hours cap, he said.

“Dawaun said he was fine, but maybe 10 minutes into driving he started to get weary but he didn’t say anything because he knew he was close to their destination and they had less than 80 miles,” MSP Trooper Rachel Roose’s supplemental incident report said.

Johnson recalled crashing into the Holiday station, but not the truck. He said he had not been fully asleep, but veered off to the side of the road while dozing off; by then, it was too late to swerve, he told Roose.

A blood draw conducted at 1:41 a.m. showed Johnson had a blood-alcohol level of .156.

Johnson estimated he had consumed a pint of E&J brandy from a 750-milliliter bottle back in the truck’s cabin while his trainee was driving, the report said. That started around 1 p.m. Central time, he said, and continued over the next four or five hours. The trooper interviewing him noted intoxicants on his breath.

Johnson had laid down in the cabin, but had not slept while the trainee was driving, he told police.

Johnson underwent a field sobriety test, during which he displayed issues with several tests, such as finger-to-nose and the walk-and-turn.

Trooper Tobin Wheeler asked him to rate his level of drunkenness while he was driving on a scale of 0-10. Johnson estimated it at 3, saying “I still kind of felt it, but I wouldn’t blame it on alcohol.”

Asked if he would have felt comfortable driving if his kids were inside, Johnson initially answered yes before changing his answer to no, Roose wrote.

“When asked why, Dawaun said, ‘Because I did drink,'” Roose’s report said. “He was then asked if it affected his ability to drive, and he said, ‘Maybe, just a little bit.'”

Johnson and the trainee both said the trainee had no idea Johnson had been drinking. The trainee estimated Johnson might have purchased the brandy earlier that day when they stopped at Walmart.

The trainee told police he was upset to learn Johnson had been drinking, because he was supposed to be training him. It was also dumb because they were also about to be off for the weekend, he said.

Roose and Wheeler had been making a traffic stop on Fourth Street in L’Anse when they heard a loud explosion and saw a flash in the sky toward Broad Street. Arriving on scene, they saw flames coming from the pumps, continued explosions at the station and a downed power line across the road.

They secured the scene and removed bystanders from the area. Roose encountered a Holiday employee walking down U.S. 41 who reported having been injured. From inside the store, he had seen a semi approaching the pumps. She said there had also been a pickup truck at the pumps, later found to belong to Dantes.

L’Anse Fire Department and other assisting departments responded to combat the fire. After Roose heard a man screaming for help, L’Anse firefighters Kevin Knight and Fabian Kristo found Dantes from under the semi and pulled him from under the semi around 11:40 p.m.. Bay Ambulance brought him to Baraga County Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The Holiday employee told Roose and Wheeler she had been ringing up a customer’s lottery tickets when she saw the headlights of the semi coming towards her.

At first stuck under the counter, she was able to extricate herself. She and the customer tried to get out through the emergency exit, which she said was jammed from the crash. After they crossed the highway, the customer called L’Anse fire chief to inform him of the crash and to seek assistance for Dantes.

The customer’s co-worker, who had been waiting in the parking lot, floored it after seeing the semi rocking from side to side in her rear view mirror as it approached the station, Roose wrote.

The co-worker then drove out of the parking lot and to the L’Anse fire hall before calling 911.

Trooper Peter Dekryger, an accident investigator, found tire tracks indicating the tractor-trailer had left the roadway at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Broad Street before entering the grass island in front of Campioni’s convenience store. The tire marks continued over the Campioni’s curbs, through the path of the telephone pole that had been knocked over and into the holiday lot.

There was no clear evidence of braking in the grass, Dekryger wrote. Because of rain and water from fire suppression, it was unclear if the driver had braked on the asphalt. On the concrete pad of Holiday’s fuel islands, debris was scrubbed clean from the tires, indicating possible braking, he wrote.

Johnson is charged with operating while intoxicated – causing death, a 15-year felony. He received two additional charges earlier this month — operating while intoxicated causing serious injury and a misdemeanor count of having an open alcohol container in a vehicle.

His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 13.


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