Winnebago man charged in Halloween crash that killed Navy veteran

A Winnebago man had alcohol in his system and was talking on his cell phone as he drove in the wrong way down a highway, crashing and killing a veteran from Blue Earth, say documents filed in district court Tuesday.

Jeffrey Gordan Gunzenhauser, 20, was charged with felony criminal vehicular homicide in the crash that killed Harold Elvin Renkly, 76, on Oct 31, 2020.

Renkly was a Navy veteran who was born and raised in Blue Earth, according to his obituary.

According to the criminal complaint, off-duty Winnebago police officer Jacob Pettit was driving south on Highway 169 south of Winnebago, when he was nearly run off the road by a Dodge Dart traveling north in the southbound lanes.  The driver of the vehicle was later identified as Gunzenhauser.

The officer immediately called dispatch and turned to follow Gunzenhauser, whom he trailed for three miles.  Pettit reported the vehicle continued in the oncoming traffic lane until it collided head-on with a southbound Dodge Caravan driven by Renkly.  The vehicles were both traveling at highway speeds, according to the complaint.

Pettit administered aid to Renkle, his passenger, and Gunzenhauser, who were all unconscious.  Renkly was eventually pronounced dead at the scene, and Gunzenhauser was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center for his injuries.  Renkly’s passenger, Stanely Roy Oppedal, 84, of Ames Iowa, was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

A blood draw put Gunzenhauser’s blood-alcohol content at .10, three hours after the crash.  In addition, Gunzenhauser’s girlfriend confirmed she was talking to him on the phone while he was on Highway 169 when the call abruptly ended.

Pettit told investigators he’d seen no indication that Gunzenhauser had used his brakes, which a state patrol analysis confirmed.

Investigators also discovered a vape pen near Gunzenhauser’s vehicle following the crash.

Reconstruction investigators with the state patrol concluded the primary cause of the crash was Gunzenhauser crossing the center line in front of Renkley.

Gunzenhauser was also charged with gross misdemeanor criminal vehicular operation and has been summoned to appear in Faribault County Court.

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