Suspect Accused of Driving 107 mph While Drunk, Killing 2, Released Without Bail

Updated: 04/24/2014 7:23 AM
Created: 04/23/2014 7:46 PM
By: Stephen Tellier

A family erupted in outrage when a judge released the man charged in their daughter's death without having to post bail. He was charged on Tuesday with killing two people while driving drunk at more than 100 miles an hour. He's a free man -- for now.

It was an emotional hearing. Right after Judge William H. Koch decided to set no bail in the case, one victim's family member in the courtroom yelled that the suspect had taken two lives, and another family member shouted an expletive at the judge. They were too distraught to even speak with 5 EYEWITNESS News after the hearing.

The memorial to two young lives still stands five months after they were lost.

"What I saw was just total devastation, and I knew it couldn't be good," said Lisa Delgado, who came across the accident scene just after it happened around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 3.

"Young people that seemed to have so much going for them in life -- it was just really sad to hear," Delgado said.

Twenty-one-year-old Brandy Banks-Sutta was in a car stopped at a light on Olson Memorial Highway in Minneapolis with a friend, 20-year-old Melvin Jones, behind the wheel, when the car was hit from behind. Both died instantly. 

"As you can imagine, the family is devastated by this," said Mike Padden, an attorney representing Banks-Sutta's family.

Prosecutors said the driver responsible was 55-year-old Philip Bertelsen. Court documents show he had a blood alcohol content of 0.18 -- more than twice the legal limit -- and was driving 107 miles per hour seconds before the impact.

On Wednesday, he answered to criminal vehicular homicide charges. The prosecution requested a bail of $300,000 while the defense requested a bail of $5,000. But Judge Koch set no bail. That means Bertelsen was released -- albeit with conditions and supervision.

"When you hear the state request bail at $300,000, and then the decision is made for no bail, that can be fairly shocking," Padden said.

His attorney said Bertelsen is remorseful and has completed alcohol treatment since the accident.

"He's taking personal responsibility for his relationship with alcohol," said Robert Christensen, Bertelsen's attorney.

But others said he's still the reason the memorial is there in the first place.

"He was the one in the car; it was his blood alcohol, and he caused their deaths. I think he should go to prison," Delgado said.

It's not unheard of for suspects in fatal DWI cases to be released without posting bail, but it is unusual.

Bertelsen is due back in court next month and faces a maximum of 40 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Padden also said he will soon file a civil lawsuit against Bertelsen.

Christensen said his client's blood alcohol content could become an issue. He said there's a chance Bertelsen was unconscious when police drew blood, so he may argue for the test result to be thrown out. However, under Minnesota's implied consent law, anyone who drives a car consents to a BAC test. Lawyers have tried to challenge that -- so far, unsuccessfully.

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