St. Paul attorney who hit jogger won't face felony charges
ST. PAUL — The St. Paul attorney who struck and killed a jogger in St. Paul last winter will not face felony charges.
The decision comes after the Hennepin County attorney's office reviewed evidence in the case against Peter Berge and determined the 61-year-old was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the collision, nor was he on his cellphone, the office reported Wednesday morning.
As such, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman found Berge's conduct not to be grossly negligent and declined to file felony charges.
Prosecutors relied on witness statements and accident reconstruction to make their decision, the office reported.
Their analysis estimated that Berge was driving just over 30 mph at the time of the collision and that he drifted into oncoming traffic several times before shifting back into the correct lane, authorities say.
The speed limit on the roadway is 25 mph.
A massive tumor was discovered on Berge's brain two days after he fatally struck Scott Spoo at Mississippi River Boulevard and Dayton Avenue about 4:40 p.m. Feb. 22, 2017, authorities say.
Spoo, 35, 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.
Police arrested Berge on suspicion of criminal vehicle operation shortly after his sport-utility vehicle collided with Spoo in the crosswalk.
Police said Spoo was not wearing headphones or earbuds when he was struck, and officers suspected Berge of being under the influence because he failed balance tests. They also said at the time that there was reason to believe he might have been on his cellphone.
A search of Berge's cellphone records has subsequently revealed that he had not been on his phone since 4:26 p.m. that day, according to the Hennepin County attorney's office.
"This is a tragic and sad case," Freeman said in a written statement. "We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Spoo's family. Had Mr. Berge been drinking or if he had fled the scene we could have charged him with criminal vehicular homicide. That was not the case. There was no evidence of gross negligence, either."
Berge has been a lawyer in Minnesota for more than 30 years, and was among the financial contributors to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi's past campaigns.
As such, the case was referred to Hennepin County to review for possible charges to avoid any potential conflict of interest.
Reached at his home, Berge deferred any comments on the charging decision to his attorney, Charles Hawkins.
Speaking on his behalf, Hawkins said he and Berge were "very appreciative" of Freeman's decision.
"We are just appreciative for the time and the effort that the Hennepin County attorney's office gave in reviewing the case and their willingness to hear our side of things before they made their decision," Hawkins said.
He added that he provided medical records about Berge's cancer diagnosis to the authorities.
Berge's brain tumor affects his vision, Hawkins said, and therefore prevented Berge from seeing Spoo in the crosswalk that day.
He declined to get into the specifics of Berge's prognosis but said the combination of the diagnosis and his involvement in the fatal collision have been "extremely traumatic" for the longtime attorney.
The Spoo family's civil attorney, Jay Urban, said that while he understands the high burden of proof needed to pursue felony charges, he and the Spoo family still believe Berge's conduct was grossly negligent.
"While I can tell you as a lawyer I understand the (charging) decision, on a personal level the family is disappointed that you can kill somebody with your automobile and at least for now escape consequences," Urban said.
He added that he and his team have pursued their own investigation into the accident as they prepare to file a civil lawsuit in the case.
That should be filed after the St. Paul city attorney's office reviews the case for any possible misdemeanor-level charges, Urban said.
This last year has been exceptionally hard for the Spoo family as they endured a year of many firsts without Scott Spoo present, according to Holly Spoo, his sister.
The outpouring of support she and her family have received from loved ones has helped, she added.
Bike rides in his honor have taken place, for example, and trail fix-it stations and benches installed to help remember him, she said.
"So just those different things, and people reaching out and keeping in touch, has been helpful," she said.
She declined to comment about Wednesday's charging decision.