State auditor unable to substantiate claims on Farmfest crash

Minnesota State Auditor Julie Blaha contradicted police reports, dash-camera videos and the recorded statements of a first responder when attempting to defend herself.

State Auditor Julie Blaha and Senate Minority Leader Melisa Lopez Franzen were involved in a car crash last summer after leaving Farmfest.

Minnesota State Auditor Julie Blaha has made unsubstantiated claims apparently aimed at clearing her name after new details emerged about an open alcohol container that was in her car during a crash last summer.

Alpha News recently broke a story about the open can found in Blaha’s vehicle after an accident she was involved in last summer with DFL Senate Minority Leader Melisa Lopez Franzen, who was in the passenger seat.

The most critical documents from the case are a series of State Patrol field reports that say officers found an open White Claw can that was “cold to the touch” and spilled as a firefighter recovered it from the car. The reports also note how the State Patrol recovered a non-alcoholic can of “Cocktail de Fruits” from the vehicle.

Contradicting the police report, Blaha’s spokesman Donald McFarland claimed that the cold can that spilled was in fact the Cocktail de Fruits juice.

Alpha News spoke with McFarland on Tuesday, asking which documents indicate that the cold beverage that spilled was fruit juice, not White Claw. He confirmed that both he and Alpha News have reviewed the same set of documents but declined five times to specify where the spilled drink is described as anything other than White Claw.

Pages 42-55 are the five police reports from the accident. Four of them describe how an open White Claw was found in the car and spilled during the initial investigation. The fifth report does not mention either the White Claw or fruit juice and only concerns the other vehicle involved. No report indicates that fruit juice spilled, or that the juice can was cold.

Blaha herself has even claimed via Facebook that officers “determined the can of cold liquid was a non-alcoholic juice drink, Cocktail de Fruits.” The responding officers did have a brief conversation about whether the can of fruit juice contained alcohol. But in police reports and at the scene, first responders explicitly described the White Claw as “cold,” “open,” and “pretty full.”

Blaha also published a mostly blurred screenshot of the police report which shows she was not intoxicated at the time of the accident — a fact which Alpha News included in its initial report.

However, part of the text she chose to blur contains a statement from Trooper Daniel Walker who recalls how first responders “located an opened White Claw in the vehicle” and asked Blaha about it.

A screenshot from the State Patrol’s field report, highlighted for emphasis.

The State Patrol report says the cold can contained White Claw. A video from the scene shows first responders discussing a can of White Claw that was full enough to spill, and a recorded debrief with the firefighter who found it reflects that it was cold. Nowhere is the can of Cocktail de Fruits described as cold or freshly opened.

Alpha News reached out to the State Patrol seeking clarification and a public information officer specified that “all public data has been provided on this investigation in accordance with government data practice laws.”

Blaha was only cited for a minor traffic violation that caused the accident. The citation issued in relation to the accident does not contain an open-container violation and Blaha’s public record shows she has never been convicted of such an offense.

Alpha News also contacted the Morgan Fire Department, which employs the firefighter who found the White Claw. The department said it has no comment.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Republicans say they now have “more questions than answers” about last summer’s crash.

“The public deserves better from their leaders and we have many questions left unaddressed from August that are only now coming to light. I think we all deserve to hear directly from Leader Lopez Franzen, Auditor Blaha, and Chairman Martin about what happened,” Senate Deputy Majority Leader Karin Housley said.