MANKATO — A Mankato man, who witnesses said was having sex with his passenger as he was driving, pleaded guilty Monday to killing her and another woman driving a car that was hit head-on.
Mark Anders Chalin, 24, told District Court Judge Bradley Walker he didn’t remember anything about what led to the Aug. 7, 2011, crash that killed 23-year-old Amber Menezes of Mankato and 35-year-old Jonna Martin of Lakefield. Witnesses who had passed Chalin’s car and State Patrol investigators reported Menezes was straddling Chalin, blocking his view of the road, when Chalin slammed into another car driven by Martin.
Chalin and Martin were traveling in opposite directions on Blue Earth County Road 90. An investigation showed Martin had moved to the shoulder of the road and slammed on her brakes before being hit by Chalin. There was no evidence Chalin attempted to slow down after he crossed the centerline and swerved into Martin, the reports said.
During Monday’s plea hearing, Chalin said he agreed to the plea because he couldn’t remember what happened but understood a jury had enough evidence to find him guilty of criminal vehicular homicide due to negligence. He said he remembered leaving his father’s house in Delavan with Menezes in his car and making a couple of turns while driving to his apartment in Mankato.
“The next thing I remember is waking up in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,” Chalin said. “I don’t remember which day. It could have been Aug. 7, Aug. 8 or Aug. 9.”
Chalin was treated for 26 broken bones and a damaged bladder after the crash. He was in the hospital 45 days and made his first court appearance for the charges in February. He was released on his own recognizance after that hearing.
Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Chris Rovney will recommend a 48-month prison sentence, according to the agreement. Chalin’s attorney, Jacob Birkholz, will argue for a downward departure that could result in jail time instead of prison.
Martin’s fiancé, Roger Thompson, wasn’t at the plea hearing. He said during a hearing in June that he had already used all of his vacation time attending earlier hearings.
He said then that Martin had dropped his daughter off in Waseca and was on her way home the day of the crash.
Menezes’ mother, Michelle Scholl, was at the hearing. She said she doesn’t agree with the plea agreement nor Chalin’s ability to argue for a lesser sentence. Chalin has faced more than a dozen charges in the past for crimes ranging from traffic violations involving alcohol to harassment and trespassing.
Scholl also spoke for Martin’s family, which includes Martin’s young children.
“I’m very sad,” she said. “There’s four children of a dead woman who will never have Christmas or Thanksgiving again with her. Their mother won’t be at their graduation.
“I will never have grandchildren from my daughter. She was somebody who did something with her life. He is a repeat offender. He has taken no responsibility. How can you be sorry for something if you don’t think you did anything wrong? That’s my question.”
Chalin was scheduled to go to trial Oct. 16. His sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 10.