Authorities: Man crashes vehicle, leaves injured woman behind

Authorities: Man crashes vehicle, leaves injured woman behind

MABEL — A Mabel man is facing criminal charges after he allegedly rolled a Polaris Ranger at Steam Engine Park and then fled the scene — leaving an unconscious woman behind in the vehicle.

Michael Howard Ellis, 19, made his first appearance Monday in Fillmore County District Court, where he is facing one count each of criminal vehicular operation under the influence of alcohol, a felony, criminal vehicular operation under the influence of alcohol and DWI, both gross misdemeanors, as well as DWI, reckless driving, careless driving and driving after revocation, all misdemeanors.

Ellis, who later told police that his level of intoxication was “not enough to throw up,” but “definitely buzzed,” was driving with two others on the group’s return trip from a local winery on Jan. 17. He told police that he was an inexperienced utility vehicle driver, and had attempted to “drift” the vehicle prior to the crash.

He allegedly fled after the crash, leaving Whitney Hovden, who was injured and unresponsive, at the scene. She later woke without feeling in her legs, according to court documents.

At 6:04 p.m. Fillmore County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to a report of a Polaris Ranger lying on its passenger side. Inside the vehicle, they found Hovden, who had to be cut from the roll cage.

The owner of the vehicle, Dave Zimmer, was also present. He stated that Hovden was his girlfriend and that she’d taken the vehicle out because she wanted to “drive around in the snow and whip donuts.” He told police that he went looking for her after she didn’t return, and found that she had crashed in the park.

Hovden was transported to Gunderson Hospital in La Crosse, Wis. She told emergency medical personnel on scene that she had been the driver, and that she was alone at the time of the crash.

The next day, a review of surveillance footage from the Mabel Community center revealed Hovden had not been alone — but that three people had been involved in the incident.

On the video footage, someone can be seen running from the vehicle after the crash. A short time later, a vehicle can be seen pulling up to the crash just prior to the arrival of several EMS personnel.

On Jan. 23, Fillmore County Sheriff’s investigators interviewed Ellis, who admitted he was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash. He also admitted drinking, and told police he ran from the scene to get his dad because Hovden was unresponsive. He told police that when they returned, she was awake, but told him she couldn’t feel her feet.

Ellis was driving, with Zimmer in the front passenger seat and Hovden in the back, possibly unbelted.

In a separate interview with police, Hovden told police she suffered a concussion, swelling near the spine, had no movement in her legs and was unable to walk or stand.

Zimmer continued to deny being in the vehicle at the time of the crash, but eventually admitted to being a passenger in the front seat. He apologized for lying, but told police he was scared the night of the accident because he thought Hovden might have been dead.

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