ISANTI COUNTY, Minn. (KMSP) - The family of an Isanti County hit-and-run victim is in disbelief after they discovered key evidence which appears to have been overlooked in the case against the driver. That evidence includes phone records that appear to cast doubt on the driver’s chronology of events that night and whether he knew he struck a boy.
Antonio DeMeules, 15, died after being hit by a white pickup while riding his skateboard on 285th Avenue near Isanti in September 2015.
A security camera captured the truck seconds after the accident at 8:09 p.m.
Eugene Coots, who was working the night shift at the construction company near the road, is puzzled by the image police gave to media to get help identifying the vehicle. The photo was cropped, showing a darkened scene. But the un-cropped photo from the camera shows the sky at dusk.
"It was light enough to see an object in the road," Coots told the Fox 9 Investigators.
The next day, the Isanti County Sheriff's office told the media DeMeules was "skateboarding down the middle of the road," based on the accounts of two drivers who had passed him minutes earlier.
DRIVER TURNS HIMSELF IN BUT NOT CHARGED
In documents obtained by the Fox 9 Investigators, the lead detective, Rob Bowker, said he was told to "spin the accident off as a tragedy, and not a malicious incident, to get "the person responsible to come in faster."
Twenty four hours later, the driver of the white truck, Adam Maki, turned himself in.
"If I would've known that it was something to stop for like it is now, I would have," Maki told detective Bowker in a recorded conversation.
Maki, who had a previous conviction for drunk driving, admits he was coming home from a local bar, Jumpin' Jacks, where his live-in girlfriend was the bartender. The receipt shows he had a burger and three beers. One of the beers, he said, he bought for another regular. He left the bar, just before 8 p.m.
“It was dark. All of a sudden, I see this black object about this tall on the ground, it was a bump on my front bumper, and to me it looked like an animal, dog or I thought turkey right away," he told police investigators.
He said he didn't stop, kept driving, another two miles, until he made it home, took a look at his truck, and only seeing some slight damage on the front grill, went to bed early.
Throughout the interview, Detective Bowker almost seemed to be assisting the man in crafting his narrative.
"Obviously if you hit something so hard you heard it clink under your truck or your car you might get out and check it, but you know people hit birds and animals all the time. That's why we put it in the press that report was to say, hey we can believe this is a tragic accident," said Bowker to Maki.
Five months later, Isanti County Attorney Jeffrey Edblad, declined to file criminal charges. He wrote in his report, “This accident was caused by Antonio DeMeules and not by Adam Maki."
"I honestly thought they were the defense team for the suspect and not looking out for Antonio," said DeMeules’ aunt, Sheila Potocnik.
For Potocnik, it seemed like the prosecutor forgot the law, which reads a driver needs to stop when it is reasonable to do so after hitting something with a vehicle. She knows about the law because of the Amy Senser case.
The wife of former Viking, Joe Senser, who killed a man on a freeway off ramp and fled the scene in 2011 saying she thought she'd hit a traffic cone. A jury found her guilty.
Two years later, the legislature closed the so-called "ignorance loophole" in vehicular homicide, to "require drivers in any collision to stop their car at the scene, or as close as possible, and investigate what was struck."
FAMILY EXAMINES THE EVIDENCE
Believing there was more to the story, DeMeules’ family got the entire case file, the accident reconstruction, the forensics, even Maki's phone records that came on a disc from the BCA.
They learned the teenager was thrown 60 feet. His DNA was on the front bumper and the rear tire.
But the biggest surprise was Maki's phone records. He told police he took a nap after work, but he sent a text to a co-worker at 5:23 p.m. that read "Thanks for the beers, bro." When they had those beers, is not known. The family wonders if maybe Jumpin' Jacks wasn't his first stop that evening.
Maki appears to continue texting on his way home from the bar and the phone records show, he was actually on a phone call from 8:06 to 8:09:37 - remember, from the security camera - DeMeules was struck just before 8:09:20.
But the biggest red flag of all, at 8:49 p.m., 40 minutes after the teenager was killed, Maki is home searching on his phone for "isanti county mn scanner," that would allow him to listen to police dispatch calls.
"People don't go home and listen to police scanners if they think they hit a dog or turkey," said Potocnik. "If Isanti would've done their job, they would've found this evidence. If I could do it why couldn't trained investigators?"
Antonio's family says at first they couldn't access the phone records because the disc from the BCA was corrupted. They wonder if Isanti detectives also had a corrupted disc, but didn't bother to ask the BCA for a another one.
The county attorney and the sheriff, have both declined on camera interviews, but by phone, they said they were reviewing new evidence in the case, but as the family points out, that "new evidence" was evidence they had all along.
More than a year later, it's unclear if detectives have even bothered to re-interview Maki.
When the Fox 9 Investigators tried to talk to Maki, he wouldn't stop his vehicle to talk.
And when Fox 9 reached him by phone, he didn't answer questions and said don't call again.
"I believe Isanti County treated my nephew as though he was debris, rather than a 15-year-old boy," Potocnik said.