An Edina man who initially denied killing a small-town doctor in a hit-and-run near Lake Mille Lacs last fall told investigators that he didn't remember hitting the woman with his Tesla — but if he did, he would have been driving on autopilot and checking emails.
The disclosures came in search warrant affidavits filed Thursday and Friday by law enforcement officers asking for court permission to search the man's email account and data on his cellphone. They are investigating the death of 56-year-old Cathy Ann Donovan around sunset on Nov. 13 along northbound Hwy. 169, near the lake's south shore.
Suspicions about the 42-year-old man first surfaced in an affidavit filed on Jan. 30 that revealed his cellphone was in the area about the time Donovan was hit, a windshield wiper was on the pavement near Donovan's body, and his SUV looked like one captured on surveillance video footage on that stretch of the highway around the time of the crash.
Mille Lacs County Sheriff Kyle Burton said then that "the facts … are significant" and added: "I think for sure we've established probable cause." Charges have yet to be filed, and the Star Tribune generally does not identify suspects before they are charged.
The man's attorney, David Risk, said in an email Friday to the Star Tribune: "My client is inconsolable thinking that he was involved in the accident with Ms. Donovan, and he is heartbroken for her family, her loved ones, and the community.
"We are committed to finding out the entire truth about what occurred. My client voluntarily spoke to investigators, and he explained it is probable his car would've been using Tesla's full self-driving capability. He will continue to fully cooperate with this investigation until its completion."
Two weeks after the man denied hitting Donovan, investigators questioned him again. He "maintained that he doesn't remember hitting Cathy Donovan with his Tesla, but if he did, he would have been alone in his Tesla driving on 'autopilot,' not paying attention to the road, while doing things like checking work emails," according to the filings.
A team from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also found light front-end damage to the car that an earlier visual inspection by authorities did not detect. The earlier affidavit noted that hair was collected off the SUV in three locations.
Donovan was vice chief of staff at Mille Lacs Health System and served as medical director of its clinics.
In mid-December, family members joined the State Patrol and the Sheriff's Office to announce a $10,000 reward in hopes it would lead to solving the case. Anyone with information about the crash may call the tip line at 320-983-8346 or CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477.