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Brainerd woman pleads guilty in fatal East Gull Lake collision

Kerri Marie Zelinske entered a guilty plea to felony criminal vehicular homicide

A 24-year-old Brainerd woman has pleaded guilty to striking with her car and killing a bicyclist this past October on a county road in East Gull Lake.

Cass County Attorney Christopher Strandlie said Kerri Marie Zelinske entered a guilty plea to felony criminal vehicular homicide Monday in Cass County District Court.

According to Strandlie, Zelinske admitted in court that on Oct. 10 she was driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol southbound on Cass County Road 70 in East Gull Lake when she struck and killed a bicyclist traveling in the northbound lane of Cass County Road 70.

The bicyclist, Leonard Grabowski, age 57, of Brainerd, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Zelinske’s sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 27. Minnesota sentencing guidelines call for a presumptive prison sentence of 48 months, Strandlie said, with the district court judge having the option to sentence anywhere within a range of 41-57 months without the sentence being considered a departure.

The plea agreement calls for the state to recommend a 41 month prison sentence in exchange for Zelinske’s acceptance of responsibility in the crash. However, Zelinske may request that the court depart from the guidelines and sentence her to less time, Strandlie said. The Minnesota Department of Corrections was ordered to complete a pre-sentence investigation in this matter.

“We agreed to ask for nothing more than the low end of the (sentencing guideline) box in return for her saving (Grabowski’s) family from having to endure a trial and for her to accept responsibility for her actions.”

Zelinske has been held in the Crow Wing County Jail since her arrest. Her sentence will include credit for time already served, Strandlie said.

With the plea agreement two other counts of felony criminal vehicular homicide and two counts of misdemeanor fourth degree driving under the influence would be dismissed at sentencing, Strandlie said.

According to the criminal complaint filed against Zelinske:

A Minnesota State Patrol trooper responding to the scene of the crash found Zelinske’s car had left front-end damage and the left side of the windshield was smashed. A bicycle was observed in the ditch just off County Road 70 to the east. Grabowski’s body was observed just off the bike trail that runs alongside the road, about 70 feet south of the Gull River Road intersection. A shoe and orange hat were found in the northbound lane.

Just south of the County Road 70 intersection with the Gull River Road, the trooper found motor vehicle tracks that went in the ditch on the east side of County Road 70. The tracks went into the ditch before coming back out and then going back into the ditch again.

The trooper reported Zelinske was observed to have bloodshot, watery eyes and an odor of alcohol on her breath. According to the criminal complaint, Zelinske told the trooper she was coming from a lake access, never saw Grabowski and wasn’t sure where he came from. Zelinske also admitted to consuming alcoholic beverages and she failed field sobriety tests conducted by the trooper. A preliminary breath test produced a result of .137, the complaint reported.

Zelinske stated she was “initially scared and that is why she did not stop immediately. She then decided to come back to the scene,” according to the complaint.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Patrol collaborated in the investigation of the incident.

MATT ERICKSON, night editor, may be reached at 855-5857 or