Friend: Lawyer who killed a New Richmond grad jogging in St. Paul found to have brain tumors
ST. PAUL—The driver jailed in a crash that killed a jogger last week in St. Paul has since been hospitalized and found to have brain tumors, according to a friend.
A drug-recognition officer at the scene wrote in a search warrant that Peter Holmes Berge, 60, appeared "to be under the influence of one or more substances and is unsafe to drive a motor vehicle."
But longtime friend Mike Salovich said he knows the allegations are untrue. He said Berge, who is a lawyer, is "totally devastated" to know a man was killed.
"I thought he was so shook up that the police officers may have interpreted his behavior wrongly," Salovich said Monday, Feb. 27. "... But apparently they didn't think about a possible medical issue associated with it."
Sgt. Mike Ernster, a St. Paul police spokesman, said officers routinely ask people questions after crashes to determine if they have any medical problems that would interfere with field sobriety tests. During the conversation, officers also try to figure out whether any medical issues contributed to the crash, Ernster said.
Berge told an officer after the crash that he had "no physical defects, ... had not taken any medications or illicit substances, and had not consumed alcohol," according to a search warrant affidavit.
A breath test showed no alcohol in Berge's system after the Wednesday incident that killed Scott Spoo, 35. Spoo grew up in Deer Park and graduated from New Richmond High School in 2000.
But an officer described Berge as being unable to complete one field sobriety test and almost falling during another, and the officer said he had to discontinue another test for Berge's safety, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Neither Berge nor his friends knew about his brain tumors previously, Salovich said. He thinks Berge's symptoms were subtle and does not believe they caused the crash.
"He did drive around all day without any problem," Salovich said. "My intuition says both people didn't see each other, but the subsequent police examination of Peter helped expose this possible medical issue."
Police arrested Berge, of St. Paul, on suspicion of criminal vehicle operation after his sport-utility vehicle collided with Spoo in the crosswalk on Mississippi River Boulevard at Dayton Avenue about 4:40 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22.
Police said Spoo was not wearing headphones or earbuds when he was struck, and officers suspected Berge of being under the influence and possibly on his phone.
But Salovich, who has known Berge since they attended St. Olaf College together, said his friend is "very responsible, and he lives a very clean lifestyle."
When they went on a trip to California in the fall, Berge volunteered to be the designated driver every day — "that's the type of person he is," Salovich said.
Spoo, of St. Paul, died about an hour after the crash at Hennepin County Medical Center. He was a 3M senior product development engineer in the stationery and office supplies division and an avid runner and bicyclist.
"Knowing Peter, if he could switch places or do anything to correct this, he would," Salovich said.
Spoo's sister, Holly Spoo, said Monday that the family is just focusing on Spoo for the next few days because his services are coming up.
She said her brother's organs were donated, "so even in his last acts he was kind and selfless."
Berge was released from the Ramsey County jail Friday morning, pending further investigation.
The search warrant that police obtained was to draw Berge's blood for testing. The Hennepin County attorney's office will handle the review of the Berge case, and a spokesman said Friday they they "will be in a position to make a charging decision" when the testing is complete.
It was late Friday afternoon that Berge's medical issues were discovered, Salovich said.
Berge began feeling weakness on his left side. And the man who's an avid guitar player — "he's very, very good," Salovich said — was having trouble playing that day.
Berge was taken to Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
"No one had any clue, including Peter himself, because his symptoms were very, very subtle," Salovich said. "I think it was playing guitar that exposed the lack of fine motor skills."
An MRI showed four lesions in Berge's brain, and testing has been underway to find out more, Salovich said. Berge remained hospitalized Monday.
"It's premature to say, but we think the source is some other cancer somewhere in his body, but they're not sure yet," Salovich said.
Berge has been a lawyer in Minnesota for more than 30 years, and Salovich said he is well known as active in many nonprofits.
Berge lost his wife, Debbie Sit, to cancer in 2015, which has "been very difficult for him," Salovich said.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service, of which the New Richmond News is a member.