Rochester, MN (KROC AM News) – A Rochester teenager has been cleared of serious charges connected to a traffic wreck that claimed the life of a friend.

Charges of criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation and two counts of reckless driving were filed in March, two weeks before Branden Maplethorpe turned 17.

According to the criminal complaint, Maplethorpe was driving a car that was struck by another vehicle while trying to cross Highway 14 near Byron last Sept. 11th. Maplethorpe’s passenger - 18-year-old Michael Hendrix of Byron - suffered fatal injuries. The other vehicle was driven by 60-year-old Scott Gifford of Byron, who was treated for non-life threatening injuries.

According to the criminal complaint, Gifford told investigators he saw Maplethorpe’s car starting to cross Highway 14 from County Rd 3 and he hit the brakes but could not avoid hitting the other vehicle.

A trial was held earlier this month and Judge Jacob Allen heard from several witnesses, including two accident reconstruction experts representing the prosecutor and the defense.

Allen noted the testimony of the two was “markedly consistent” in that both found Maplethorpe’s failure to yield to approaching traffic was a factor in the wreck as was Gifford’s speed in the 65 mph zone.

The state expert determined Gifford’s vehicle was traveling at 78 mph five seconds before the crash and had slowed to 50 mph at the moment of impact. The expert testified, “If Gifford had been driving at 65 mph when he hit his brakes, he would have stopped 7.3 feet sooner.” But the expert testified Maplethorpe’s failure to yield was the “primary causal factor” in the wreck. The defense expert disagreed and testified “the direct cause of this collision is the excessive speed” of Gifford’s vehicle.

After considering the evidence and testimony, Allen dismissed the charges that were filed against Maplethorpe and convicted him of a misdemeanor charge of careless driving. He will be sentenced in September.

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