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Man charged with misdemeanor in Jet Ski crash that killed North Dakota girl

Waverunner on a jet boat, Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico

WASHBURN, N.D. — A Minot man who was operating a Jet Ski that killed one girl and injured another on a North Dakota lake this summer has been charged with a misdemeanor.

Dean Bartsch, 41, was charged Wednesday, Aug. 8, with prohibited operation of personal watercraft in South Central District Court. The charge is a B misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Bartsch was operating a stand-up 2003 Kawasaki Jet Ski that was involved in the fatal crash on June 9 at Strawberry Lake in McLean County.

Bartsch was thrown from the Jet Ski which, according to the McLean County Sheriff's Department, "continued under apparent power and uncontrolled" when it struck two 10-year-old girls in a tube being pulled behind a boat.

Haley Sundsbak, 10, Des Lacs, died the day after the accident. Her friend, 10-year-old Abby Mikkelson, Minot, was initially listed in critical condition but later returned home and is recovering.

The charge alleges Bartsch failed to attach a lanyard to himself that would have activated a kill switch, a safety device that is designed to shut off the motor of the Jet Ski, if the operator falls off.

The McLean County State's Attorney said that although Bartsch was performing tricks on the Jet Ski prior to being ejected from it, there was no evidence to support felony charges against him. Such charges could be filed if it was determined the operator of the Jet Ski was behaving "recklessly" or "negligently."

Bartsch was given permission to operate the Jet Ski by its owner, Jason Fuller.

An Investigation included an inspection of the Jet Ski by two Kawasaki technicians and an on-the-water reconstruction of the accident. The reconstruction concluded the Jet Ski traveled 150 to 170 yards from where Bartsch was ejected until it stuck the two girls. Estimates of the speed of the Jet Ski range from 25 to 75 miles per hour.

An affidavit filed with the court by Warden Brian Updike, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, says Bartsch told officers he had the Jet Ski's lanyard in his hand when he fell off the machine, "But it was not attached to him, or it would have pulled out and killed the engine according to testing done on the machine by a jet ski mechanic after the incident." The affidavit also says the Jet Ski had a "high idle and sticky throttle."

Both Kawasaki Jet Ski technicians, operating independently, said the motor was not "stock" and that testing on the water would be unsafe due to the fast idle which caused the Jet Ski to rev up and gain speed. One investigator stated that the Jet Ski contained numerous "after market" parts that included the throttle mechanism.

Bartsch is set to appear in court Sept. 5.

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