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Alcohol suspected in crash that sent car airborne into occupied home in rural River Falls

No tire tracks were present near the scene of a Dec. 16 crash in the town of Pleasant Valley, where authorities said this car vaulted 110 feet through the air into the structure. Photo courtesy of St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office1 / 5
Sheriff’s deputies said a car cleared this entire area through the air on its way into the house (background), where it crashed before 3 a.m. Dec. 16. Photo courtesy of St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office2 / 5
Authorities said the car vaulted out of this ditch, where it soared 110 feet through the air into a rural River Falls home. Photo courtesy of St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office3 / 5
St. Croix County sheriff’s deputies used this map to illustrate the flight path a car took after vaulting out of a ditch and crashing into a house Dec. 16. Image courtesy of St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office4 / 5
This was what a town of Pleasant Valley woman found when she went to check on a loud noise in her house before 3 a.m. Dec. 16. The driver of the vehicle was later accused of driving drunk. Photo courtesy of St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office5 / 5

Awakened by a loud crash in the middle of the night, a rural River Falls woman went to the first floor of her house and found the front end of a car inside it.

Authorities later determined the car vaulted out of a ditch, flew 110 feet in the air before punching a massive hole through the side of the town of Pleasant Valley house.

"The driver, the residents and others on the road were fortunate that this was not worse than it was in regards to personal injury," St. Croix County Sheriff Scott Knudson said.

Three people living in the house were uninjured, though the car's two passengers were taken by ambulance to Regions Hospital in St. Paul for injuries. Regions staff said Thursday that the hospital had no information on the occupants, a Woodbury woman, or the man, a St. Paul resident.

Sheriff's deputies said the woman, 27-year-old Kellie M. Finke-Tchida, was the driver. She was charged Wednesday with second-degree recklessly endangering safety, causing an injury while operating under the influence and OWI.

Her first court appearance is at 1 p.m. Friday.

According to a criminal complaint:

Officers responded at 2:47 a.m. Dec. 16 to a home in the 300 block of County Road W for a report of a vehicle striking it.

A woman living at the house said she and her husband were awakened by a loud sound and heard her daughter yelling. She checked on the child, who was fine.

"She found no one in distress upstairs and went downstairs and found a vehicle in her house," the complaint states.

The woman could hear voices coming from outside, so she went to check. She could hear two people, a man and a woman, inside the car discussing who was driving. The man appeared to be asking the woman if she wanted him to say he was the driver.

Authorities arrived and found Finke-Tchida and the man, 25-year-old Josh Pettee, trapped inside. Finke-Tchida was wedged against the driver's door, while Pettee was above her.

Deputies reported smelling alcohol coming from the car.

The occupants were freed and questioned before being transported by the ambulance.

Pettee told officers he was driving.

"We were coming from a bar uptown somewheres," the complaint states he told the officer. "We just missed the curve, man."

Asked what happened, Finke-Tchida told officers "I crashed," before saying she didn't remember who was driving. She was described as slurring her words and having bloodshot, glassy eyes.

EMS crew members later told officers that Finke-Tchida had a red mark on her left shoulder suggesting she was wearing a driver's side seat belt.

In a second interview at the hospital, she told officers that while she didn't remember driving, she knew "100 percent that Josh was not driving."

Deputies concluded the car was southbound on County Road J "at a high rate of speed" when it missed a curve, struck a ditch and went airborne, ultimately crashing into the house.

"It should be noted the vehicle did not touch the ground at any point during the approximate 110 ft. jump into the home," the complaint states.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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