Weather Forecast


Driver faces two charges of vehicular homicide in crash that killed sisters near Hillsboro, N.D.

HILLSBORO, N.D. -- It wasn’t the first time the orange 2014 Dodge Challenger had been up and down the road that night.

Witnesses said James Gregory Yahnke, 51, was giving out rides the evening of May 17 at the cookout he was hosting with his fiancée, Carla Cantrell.

She didn’t like him offering so many rides, she told investigators, but as her co-worker Teja Beyer and Beyer’s sister Mercedes Rowley argued over who would get to sit in front, her protests were ignored.

The sisters ended up dead after Yahnke crashed his new car while drunk, according to charges filed on Wednesday in Traill County (N.D.) District Court.

Traill County prosecutors charged Yahnke, of Nielsville, Minn., with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide, Class A felonies, and issued a warrant for his arrest Thursday.

Court documents state the North Dakota state trooper who responded to the crash just after 11 p.m. May 17 found the victims – Beyer, 21, of Red Lake Falls, Minn., and Rowley, 23, of Sharon, N.D. – were ejected from the side windows of the car when it hit the bumpy surface of Traill County 17 about 12 miles northeast of Hillsboro, N.D., just west across the state line from Nielsville.

The sisters were strapped into the same seat belt, one sitting on the other’s lap, court documents say.

A witness who reported the crash told deputies he saw the Dodge Challenger headed west at a high speed he estimated at more than 100 mph, just before the car nearly went airborne.

The witness told deputies he passed them on the road and didn’t see the crash, but came across it on his way back. The car sustained severe damage and the side air bags deployed.

The witness ran to check on the crash and found Beyer still with a weak pulse, Yahnke unresponsive and Rowley already dead, he told investigators.

Law enforcement interviewed Yahnke at the scene. He allegedly admitted to having had “apparently too much” to drink before getting in the car, according to court documents.

Cantrell, who became worried when the three didn’t return, grabbed a friend and went to go look for them. They arrived to find first responders at the scene.

Cantrell told investigators she didn’t serve alcohol at the cookout, but Yahnke, Beyer and Rowley had all been drinking – at the party and at the bar across the street from the home she shared with her fiancé.

Yahnke was airlifted from the scene of the crash to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, where his blood alcohol was tested, court documents say.

His first court date has not yet been set.

The sisters, who had been living together in Crookston, Minn., both left behind children: Rowley a 2-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter and Beyer a 6-month-old son.

Forum News Service

The Forum Communications News Service is the premier news wire service covering the Upper Midwest, including the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In addition to breaking and enterprise news, we offer a wide variety of sports, features, business, agriculture, outdoors and opinion content. For more information about the services we offer or to discuss content subscriptions, please contact us.