Mandan News

Man gets six months in mail carrier’s death

By Jenny Michael
Lee News

An Almont man will spend six months on electronic monitoring for causing a crash that killed a woman north of New Salem.

Ernest Borntrager, 21, pleaded guilty to Class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment on Tuesday at the Morton County Courthouse.

Borntrager originally was charged with Class C felony negligent homicide in the death of Martha Kautzman, who was critically injured in a July crash north of New Salem. Kautzman, 66, died July 30 from her injuries.

Morton County Assistant State’s Attorney Gabrielle Goter explained the charge was amended to the misdemeanor because getting a conviction on the negligent homicide charge was not a sure thing.

There was no alcohol or drug use, and there was a dispute over how fast Borntrager was driving at the time of the crash.

Goter and defense attorney Tom Dickson recommended the sentence handed down by South Central District Judge David Reich, which called for Borntrager to get one year in prison, with all but six months suspended, and two years of supervised probation. Reich allowed Borntrager to serve the sentence on electronic monitoring if he is accepted.

At an October preliminary hearing in the case, North Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Jake Thompson testified that Borntrager was northbound on N.D. Highway 31 near mile marker 82 north of New Salem at 9:30 a.m. July 8, pulling a trailer loaded with a skid-steer loader. The trailer did not have functioning brakes, he said. Kautzman, who was delivering mail, was stopped on the shoulder at the intersection of Highway 31 and 34th Street.

Thompson said Borntrager entered the east ditch while trying to avoid striking a vehicle making a left turn in front of him, crossed 34th Street and struck Kautzman’s vehicle on the driver’s side. The force of the crash pushed both vehicles over mailboxes, a stop sign and a street sign and into the ditch, Thompson said.

Another driver traveling with Borntrager told troopers he was going 70 mph to try to catch up with Borntrager. The speed limit on the highway is 65.

Trooper Rick Richard, a crash reconstructionist, testified at the preliminary hearing that he calculated the speed Borntrager was traveling prior to hitting the brakes to be approximately 83 mph.

Dickson said his client disputes the speed calculation. However, Borntrager took blame for the crash.

“He did cause the accident,” Dickson said.

“I’m sorry about what happened,” Borntrager told the judge.

Goter said Borntrager’s limited criminal history meant that even if the case had resulted in a conviction at trial, a judge may have sentenced Borntrager to less than Reich gave him Tuesday, including a deferred imposition of sentence. The misdemeanor conviction will stay on his record, she said.

She also said the company for which Borntrager was working at the time of the crash has said it will cover Kautzman’s out-of-pocket medical and funeral expenses.

“I think this is a satisfactory end to the criminal matter,” Reich said.