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Trial set in fatal North Shore crash

Gavel and judge

A Hibbing commercial truck driver who has a history of traffic collisions brought on by a medical condition will go to trial on a criminal vehicular homicide charge in Lake County, where authorities said he caused an October 2015 crash that killed a Silver Bay man.

John Ray Carpenter, 60, is accused of operating a vehicle in a "grossly negligent manner" after allegedly falling asleep or losing consciousness at the wheel of his septic tanker, causing a crash that killed 31-year-old Andrew Johnson.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Eric Hylden scheduled a three-day trial to begin April 4 in State District Court in Two Harbors.

Johnson was killed when his pickup truck was struck head-on by Carpenter's tanker truck along Lax Lake Road on Oct. 22, 2015, according to authorities.

Carpenter, the owner and operator of a septic pumping and portable toilet business, allegedly told law enforcement officers at the scene that he "blacked out" or "dozed off" before striking the oncoming motorist.

Witnesses reportedly told police that Carpenter's truck was driving erratically before the crash, swerving onto the shoulder and across the centerline.

Carpenter also allegedly told authorities at the crash scene that "he has spells every once in a while that cause him to think his eyes are open when they are not," a criminal complaint stated.

Hylden in November denied Carpenter's motion to suppress his statement to law enforcement, ruling that it was given voluntarily and could be introduced at trial.

Investigators said Carpenter's medical records indicated that he had a documented history of obstructive sleep apnea dating back to 2001, and that his driving privileges had been briefly suspended in 2005 for failing to submit to a physical exam.

The complaint indicated that Carpenter was involved in another accident just a week earlier when his tanker truck hit a parked vehicle, causing $9,000 in damage. Records found that he had been involved in at least 13 motor vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2015, authorities said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation subsequently declared him unfit to operate a commercial vehicle, and a judge set a similar restriction as a condition of his bail.

Court records indicate that he later violated that restriction. Carpenter was fined after pleading guilty in Hibbing in November to a misdemeanor charge of driving after suspension.

He's also facing a civil lawsuit filed by Johnson's family. Scott Johnson, the mayor of Silver Bay and the victim's father, filed the wrongful death claim against Carpenter in January 2016.

The lawsuit, which seeks in excess of $50,000 in damages, is set for a four-day jury trial to begin May 30 in Two Harbors before Judge Michael Cuzzo.

Andrew Johnson was a 2002 graduate of William Kelley High School in Silver Bay, a former junior hockey player and was working for the city of Silver Bay at the time of his death.