State investigators have seized an SUV and questioned the owner of the vehicle they suspect was involved in a hit-and-run crash that killed a longtime family doctor as she walked her dogs near Lake Mille Lacs last fall.
The seizure of the gray 2022 Tesla X is among several pieces of evidence detailed in a court document filed Tuesday afternoon that point to an Edina man as the person who hit 56-year-old Cathy Ann Donovan around sunset on Nov. 13 along northbound Hwy. 169 near the southern shore of Lake Mille Lacs.
Mille Lacs County Sheriff Kyle Burton said Wednesday that "the facts … are significant" as they are spelled out in a search warrant affidavit filed in court by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
"I think for sure we've established probable cause" pointing to the 42-year-old man as the driver of the Tesla X, Burton told the Star Tribune. Probable cause is the legal term for what justifies charges being filed.
Charges against the man have yet to be filed. The Star Tribune generally does not identify suspects before they are charged.
Messages were left with the man Wednesday by the Star Tribune seeking his reaction to the findings in the affidavit. The BCA also has not replied to inquiries about how the investigation is progressing.
Among the evidence noted in the affidavit: The man's cellphone was in the area about the time Donovan was hit, a windshield wiper was on the pavement near Donovan's body, and the vehicle appears to be similar to one captured on separate surveillance video footage along that stretch of the highway around the time of the crash.
The affidavit cleared the way last week for the BCA to seize the SUV, the man's phone and the Tesla's card-shaped key.
Investigators have since collected hair off the SUV in three locations: the driver's side mirror, underneath near a front tire and on the front passenger tire. A determination of the hair's origin is pending completion of the BCA's lab work. Also pending is the unearthing of data from the man's cellphone and the Tesla's computer in order to confirm the vehicle's location and whether the driver was using the phone at the time of the crash.
The man acknowledged during questioning by state investigators on Jan. 9 that he was likely driving alone to his cabin in Cross Lake on the day Donovan was struck, but he denied hitting her and leaving the scene. One investigator looked at the Tesla in the man's garage and saw no front-end damage, and the man said his vehicle has not had any body damage, nor has he made any insurance claims.
The man also said he would check his Tesla for any video that might have been saved from the day of the crash "and will call if he does. [The man] did not call … back," the court filing read.
One day after an investigator saw the Tesla, a BCA agent contacted a dealership and learned that any light front-end or windshield damage could be fixed within a few weeks. The agent also was told that Teslas "have [a] significantly higher ability to withstand body damage than other vehicles, and it is difficult to dent or do body damage to them," the affidavit read.
Apart from spelling out the evidence the BCA has in hand so far, the affidavit also disclosed that two women told investigators they saw Donovan's body on the hood of a smaller SUV heading north on the highway, with her head near the windshield. One of the women added that the vehicle she saw was consistent in appearance to the one in a surveillance image that investigators included in a news release about the crash.
A driver who came upon the scene moments after the crash said she swerved to avoid hitting Donovan in the road and fatally hit one of her dogs.
In mid-December, family members joined the State Patrol and the Sheriff's Office to announce a $10,000 reward in hopes the money will lead to solving the case.
"I cannot get my head around how anybody can drive off and leave someone in the road to die," read a statement from George Donovan, the doctor's father, during a news conference publicizing the reward. "I know Cathy cannot be replaced, but knowing why might help."