Pedestrian killed; driver charged


March 29, 2024

Brent James Keranen had been drinking late into the night with friends Wednesday, March 20, after working a “lot of hours” in the Twin Cities area that week. The 21-year-old was tired the next morning, and allegedly still buzzed when he made his way north to his hometown, Pengilly, near Hibbing.

He was so out of it that he fell asleep and grazed a Minnesota state trooper’s vehicle while driving north that morning. He was pulled over and received a citation. The trooper checked his blood alcohol level and it was at 0.066, under the legal limit to drive of 0.08.

Keranen was determined to keep driving home after getting a ticket. He later stopped for an energy drink.

That’s the narrative written up by Moose Lake police officer Chad Pattison, who responded to a call at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 21, that a driver on Minnesota Highway 73 had struck a pedestrian. Keranen was the driver, police said. With his cruise control set at 52 in the 40 mph zone, a song he liked came on the radio and he began to play “air guitar,” Keranen allegedly told police. That’s when his vehicle veered off the road and struck Justin McNeil, who was walking back from the Dollar General store at the intersection of Highway 73 and Jon Brown Drive to his home across the highway at Lake Shore Manor Apartments.

Workers from the Minnesota Corrections Facility east on Jon Brown Drive saw what happened and called 911. Keranen pulled over.

McNeil, 61, was laying in a ditch. Carlton County Sheriff’s Office deputies and the Moose Lake police chief found prison staff offering aid to him. Moose Lake Fire and Essentia Health medical staff arrived and tried to resuscitate McNeil, but he died at the scene.

Keranen was arrested for felony criminal vehicular homicide - operate motor vehicle in grossly negligent manner, and taken to the Carlton County Jail. Officers said they felt that Keranen was acting impaired. His blood alcohol level showed a 0.06 reading, still below the legal limit. Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for a blood sample, which can reveal other substances, with results pending.

Keranen had a bail hearing at 4 p.m. Friday. He was released after posting $15,000 cash on $150,000 bail with conditions. He is scheduled to make his initial appearance online with Carlton County district court on Monday, April 1.

At the scene of the crash, police said Keranen talked about working many hours and drinking the night before. He also told them about the ticket from earlier in the day.

When asked what happened in Moose Lake, the criminal complaint states Keranen said he started to play “air guitar” while driving when “suddenly” the car’s airbags deployed. Keranen said he didn’t know he hit a person.

According to the criminal complaint, Keranen later said he was “looking down and jamming out a bit, and next thing you know, I hit somebody.”

In January, Keranen was driving north on Interstate 35 near Rush City at what a trooper who was ahead of him estimated was a speed of 82 mph. Keranen eventually pulled even with the trooper, who looked into the vehicle and witnessed Keranen using his phone. He was pulled over and the trooper said Keranen claimed he was texting his father. When the trooper asked him to open his phone, Keranen admitted that he was Snapchat messaging with his girlfriend. He was found guilty of Minnesota’s hands-free driving law in February.

Last June, Keranen was clocked and ticketed for driving 95 mph in a 60 mph zone in Itasca County.

Keranen went to Nashwauk-Keewatin High School and graduated from Minnesota North College-Hibbing last year with a diploma in electrical maintenance and construction.

The maximum sentence for felony criminal vehicular homicide is 10 years or $20,000, or both.


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