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March 16, 2007
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Investigation earns Minn. officer 15 minutes of fame

By Mark Stodghill
Duluth News-Tribune, Minn. 

Mar. 15--A cable television network this weekend will feature the work of a Duluth police officer whose investigation helped determine who was driving a vehicle that crashed and killed a 28-year-old woman.

Duluth traffic investigator Tom Stolee will portray himself, with actors playing other roles in an episode titled "Mystery Driver" on the Discovery Health Channel's (cable Ch. 110 in Duluth) "Accident Investigator" series.

On July 30, 2003, Winona Lynn Dickenson of Duluth was killed when a vehicle driven by Douglas Robert Olson failed to negotiate a curve at the intersection of West Michigan Street and Carlton Street. The vehicle struck a road sign, sheared off a telephone pole, became airborne and landed on its roof, pinning Dickenson beneath.

Olson was walking in the eastbound lanes of traffic near Superior Street and 28th Avenue West at 4:22 a.m. the morning of the accident when he was approached by a Duluth police officer. He had abrasions on his face, an apparent arm injury and was having a hard time breathing. He claimed that he had been "jumped."

Police said Olson then changed his story to claim that Dickenson, his girlfriend, was driving the vehicle. A blood sample taken from Olson revealed a blood-alcohol content of nearly 0.13 percent. He also had methamphetamine in his system.

Stolee went to work reconstructing the accident. He is a seven-year member of the Duluth police force and previously worked as a traffic sergeant with the Santa Fe, N.M., police department for nine years.

Stolee determined that Olson's vehicle was traveling faster than 60 mph in a 30 mph zone. He found a shoe print impression on the gas pedal that matched the print of the shoes worn by Olson. He also discovered that the seat was positioned for a person of greater height that Dickenson, who was 5 inches shorter than Olson.

"It was an impressive display of police work because of the totality of the circumstances," said Sgt. Ed Moroney, Duluth police supervisor of accident investigations. "Everything that Tom [Stolee] did was excellent. He put the guy in the car and put him behind the wheel."

In October 2004, more than a year after the accident, Olson was charged with criminal vehicular operation resulting in Dickenson's death, as well as criminal vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm, hit and run, driving while impaired by alcohol and driving while impaired by a combination of controlled substances.

Olson pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular operation resulting in death. His four-year prison sentence was stayed for a year in the Northeast Regional Corrections Center and five years of probation.

Stolee was honored by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officer's Association at the group's 2006 annual convention for his investigative work on the case.

Duluth police were contacted by a producer for the "Accident Investigator" series. Stolee traveled to Montreal in July to film the 17-minute episode, which will be one of three investigations reported during the hour-long show.

"I didn't get paid for it, basically the compensation is your 15 minutes of fame," Stolee said with a smile. "Because they had to cram the investigation down to 17 minutes they had me doing things that I personally didn't do. Some of the other officers in the department, like John Barrett and Daryl Diver did good jobs and I don't want to take credit for what they did. ... The Minnesota State Patrol assisted me with taking the measurements and mapping the scene."

Stolee said that for legal reasons, the names of the driver and the victim and their relationships have been changed in the television version of the events. But the investigative techniques he used to make the case are accurately portrayed.

"Tom built a pretty good case when somebody pleads guilty a year later on circumstantial evidence," Moroney said. "It's very, very difficult to prove those types of cases. Very few get solved."

According to the Discovery Health Channel's Web site, "Mystery Driver" will air at 8 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday.

Full story: Investigation earns Minn. officer 15 minutes of fame






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