Michigan man charged with sexually assaulting 15-year-old in semi-truck

Updated: August 21, 2019 06:33 PM

A Michigan man is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection to a sexual assault investigation in Stearns County.

A criminal complaint shows that Kenneth George Zehnder, 34, of Lexington, Michigan, was charged in Stearns County District Court on Wednesday.


The complaint states the Ottertail County dispatch center received a text message from a 15-year-old girl at about 10:23 a.m. on Monday, indicating she was sexually assaulted in a semi-truck.

The Clay County Sheriff's Office said the girl was able to text dispatchers she was still in the semi, and that it was traveling west on Interstate 94, along with a description of it. Deputies in Ottertail County and Minnesota State Patrol troopers eventually located the semi and stopped it on I-94 near Downer. Zehnder was identified as the driver of the semi, the complaint states.

Man arrested after woman texts authorities about sexual assault, investigation ongoing

Even though you can text-to-911 in Minnesota, in many parts of the country you still cannot.  Minnesota is one of only five states that currently offer text to-911-coverage statewide.  The other states are highlighted in red below.

The following day, a forensic interview was conducted with the girl, according to the complaint. She told authorities she was sexually assaulted by Zehnder when they pulled into a rest area at about 7 or 7:30 a.m. on Monday, and had also been sexually assaulted at various locations over the past week while they were traveling in the semi-truck. She told authorities she texted 911 a few hours after the assault Monday.

According to the complaint, semi logs and GPS data indicated Zehnder logged himself on break shortly after 8 a.m. about 5 miles southeast of Albany, Minnesota, which would be consistent with a rest area in Avon Township in Stearns County.

If convicted, Zehnder could face up to 30 years in prison, up to a $40,000 fine or both.

Minnesota started text-to-911 nearly two years ago. 

"I think it reinforces for us that we made the right decision to implement text to 9-1-1 in Minnesota and that's excatly why we did it," Dana Wahlberg, with Minnesota Public Safety said. "For those very reasons, when it's either not possible to make a voice call or when placing a voice call would put someone in danger, and in this case I'm sure she felt that she would be in danger if she placed a voice call her perpetrator were able to hear a call for help." 

It might sound simple but there are some things to remember if and when you have to use text-to-911.

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