Trial opens for hit-and-run driver whose car cut off man's leg

Casey Grove
Zack Mohs whispers to Ken Krasselt at Courage Center in Golden Valley on Friday, May 10, 2013. Krasselt was the first person to help Mohs after he was severely injured in a hit-and-run accident in Alaska. Months later, Krasselt flew to Minnesota to see Mohs.
Zack Mohs negotiates the hallways of Courage Center in Golden Valley, Minn., followed by his mother, Cheryl Young, and sister. Molly Miller, on Friday, April 19, 2013.

Hit by a car that did not stop, Zachary Mohs lay bleeding and unconscious on Anchorage's Arctic Boulevard about 30 feet from the lower part of his leg, cut off in the September 2012 collision, a witness testified in court Tuesday.

The witness, World War II veteran Ken Krasselt, described discovering Mohs badly injured for a jury in the trial of the driver that hit him, Luke Jerde.

Jerde, 22, is charged with first-degree assault, reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident, evidence tampering and driving without insurance.

Jerde's lawyer admits his client did not stop to help Mohs, now 28, but disagreed with a state prosecutor who says Jerde drove recklessly and committed first-degree assault, a charge that requires proof that Jerde showed "extreme indifference to the value of human life," according to a state statute.

Mohs was wearing dark clothing and was not in a crosswalk, said the lawyer, Chong Yim.

It was rainy and approaching dusk, said Krasselt, who was driving his friend to a bus stop at Arctic and Tudor Road. They saw Mohs, and Krasselt said he screamed at his friend to call 911.

"Did you notice any obvious injury to him?" Assistant District Attorney John Darnall asked.

Krasselt, on the witness stand, looked overcome with emotion.

"You'll have to excuse me," he said. "When I approached Zach to put the blanket on him, I didn't realize he was missing his foot. It was a horrific, horrific sight."

Another man who stopped to help cinched a strap onto Mohs' leg to stop the bleeding, Krasselt said.

What happened, Darnall had said earlier in his opening statement, was that Jerde was speeding northbound on Arctic in a red 1984 Pontiac Fiero with windshield wipers that did not work. A witness guessed the sports car was going 50 mph.

Mohs stepped off the sidewalk near 45th Avenue, just south of Tudor, where the Fiero hit him and sent him into the air, somersaulting, Darnall said. Jerde abandoned the car in some brush in an attempt to hide it, the prosecutor said.

Medics rushed Mohs to a hospital, where he was listed in critical condition. His leg was later amputated above the knee. He also had a severe concussion, a broken shoulder and broken vertebrae, Darnall said.

Police found the Fiero and interviewed its registered owner, a man who told them he had recently sold the car to Jerde, Darnall said. When they asked Jerde about the collision, he lied and said, "I don't know anything about it," claiming he, too, had sold the car, Darnall said.

"They said, 'We know you had the car. We know you were driving it,'" Darnall said.

Finally, Jerde admitted what he'd done, the prosecutor said.

Yim, the defense attorney, said police did not investigate the case thoroughly enough to know if Jerde had committed first-degree assault or driven recklessly. They also did not look at Mohs' actions closely enough, Yim said.

The windshield wipers might not have worked well, but they worked, Yim said. And Mohs was the one who stepped into the street after drinking beer that night and was wearing dark clothes, the lawyer said.

Yim said he planned to argue that Jerde was driving slower -- possibly 35 mph, not 50. At either speed, there was not enough time for Jerde to stop when Mohs walked in front of his car, Yim said.

"Mr. Jerde panicked. There's no denying that. He lied from the beginning. Eventually, he did crack, and he told the truth," Yim said. "He saw it. He knew what he did was wrong."

"(Mohs) had a duty not to place himself in danger, obviously, but he has a duty not to cause a motorist to not have to take evasive action."

Mohs' mother, Cheryl Young, said by phone that Mohs is living with her now in St. Paul, Minn., where he continues to recover. Mohs, once an avid skateboarder, uses an electric wheelchair to get around now, she said.

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