Jury convicts reckless driver in girlfriend's death

Wednesday,

A Hennepin County District Court jury found a 21-yearold man guilty of all three counts against him in the criminal vehicular homicide of his girlfriend, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday.

Michael Laurence Campbell was found guilty of criminal vehicular homicide-operating in a grossly negligent manner, criminal vehicular homicide-driver causing the collision leaves the scene in the death of his 20-year-old girlfriend Ria Patel and also leaving the scene of a fatal collision – driver not the cause of the collision. Sentencing is set for April 5.

“Mr. Campbell was probably drunk, he smashed into a pole going 65 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone and he ran away,” said Freeman. "Then he tried to deflect responsibility for his actions by claiming Ms. Patel was responsible for her own death by kissing him. He also put her family through more distress by pretending that she was still alive.”

According to the criminal complaint and testimony during the trial, on Sept. 17, a woman was coming off of westbound I-35W when she heard a loud crash and saw a red Ford Focus bouncing off the semaphore at Stinson Boulevard near Ridgeway Parkway about 3:40 a.m.

She then watched Campbell get out of the car and run to a nearby McDonald’s. She called 911 and then saw Campbell return to the car and dig around for something in the driver’s side of the vehicle. The witness walked toward him and Campbell told her to call 911. She told him she had and police were on the way, at which point he ran east toward the Honeywell parking lot, the complaint states.

Campbell left his wallet in the car and officers went to his house. Friends there said they did not know he had left the house after he and Patel came to the house about 2:20 a.m. and one roommate described him as “super drunk.”

In court, Campbell testified that he knew Ms. Patel was dead at the time of crash and yet he sent her sister a text message almost nine hours later asking if she knew where Patel was. Patel’s sister testified that Campbell then spoke with her on the phone and denied being in a vehicle with Ms. Patel the night before. A portion of that call was captured on video and was played for the jury. Campbell can be heard denying driving and telling Patel’s family, “I’m freaking out right now. Where is Ria?”

Court testimony, including some of his own, indicated that Campbell ran about three miles to the home he shared with roommates on Randolph Street Northeast. He then locked himself in his room for several hours, calling Ms. Patel’s phone from a blocked number multiple times and contacting his employer to say he would miss his shift later that day but would return to work two days later. Eventually, he took an Uber ride to St. Michael, where his parents live, although he did not go to their house. Campbell spent a day-and-a-half in St. Michael and it is during that time that he came up with a new story, which was his defense in court.

Campbell claimed that Patel suddenly grabbed his face while he was driving and gave him a passionate kiss. The crash occurred during that kiss. However, Patel suffered numerous serious injuries to her head and face and Campbell had none, according to testimony. If they had been kissing, Campbell would have had injuries, too.

The jury did not buy that story. They returned their guilty verdicts after about three hours of deliberation, following a seven-day trial.

The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines recommend a sentence of 48 months in prison, but Freeman said they will ask for the higher end of the guidelines range at 57 months.