The case of an SUV-buggy crash which claimed the lives of two Amish children several weeks ago has taken a strange turn – from tragedy to something potentially criminal.
Police now suspect that twin sisters, one of whom was believed to be driving the SUV, were not being honest about what exactly happened the morning the Amish girls lost their lives.
This crash happened in Fillmore County, Minnesota. It should be noted this is different from the New York accident which also claimed two Amish children’s lives – just a few days prior to this one. From the Minnesota Star-Tribune:
Law enforcement says it has “true and accurate” evidence that a woman lied when she told a southern Minnesota sheriff’s deputy that she — not her twin sister — was driving the SUV that hit an Amish family’s buggy last month and killed two of four children in the horse-drawn vehicle.
Suspicions that the 35-year-old identical twins plotted to conceal the real identity of who caused the Sept. 25 crash southeast of Stewartville are outlined in search warrant affidavits filed last week. A Fillmore County sheriff’s investigator won a judge’s permission to collect physical evidence toward determining who was driving.
More details on the accident:
The crash involving the Miller family’s buggy occurred shortly before 8:30 a.m. on southbound County Road 1, DeGeorge said. Killed were Wilma, 7, and Irma, 11. Hospitalized in Rochester for treatment were Allan, 9, and Rose, 13. The four children were riding to school at the time of the crash, with Rose holding the reins, a family friend said.
A photo of the children. Irma and Wilma are pictured on the right:
Suspicions quickly arose after the collision:
One day after the collision, the sheriff’s office issued a news release saying that Sarah Beth Petersen of nearby Spring Valley struck the buggy from behind.
But within days, the affidavits reveal, law enforcement began suspecting that Petersen was not the driver, but that it was her sister, Samantha Jo Petersen, based on the women’s conversations, investigator interviews, a change of clothing, and incriminating text messages.
If true, this was apparently not the first time the twins have done this:
Court records show Sarah Petersen was convicted in 2017 for giving her twin’s name to a Fillmore County sheriff’s deputy who pulled her over for driving erratically. The deputy was told soon after the stop by a fellow deputy that Sarah Petersen “has given Samantha’s name in past interactions with law enforcement.”
Why swap responsibility?
This leads to the question of why, if this is true, the twin sisters would attempt to swap responsibility for the crash?
At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s a pretty big deal to take responsibility for operating a vehicle which caused the deaths of two children. You’d have to be doing this to protect the other person, in this case a close family member.
The first thing that comes to mind is that the one driving perhaps has a past criminal record. Any charges in that case may carry a heavier penalty for the twin with the record (again this is speculation).
But what makes me question that idea is the fact that Sarah Beth Petersen, the one who took responsibility for driving (but according to police actually wasn’t driving), in fact has a pretty lengthy record herself:
Minnesota court records show Petersen has been convicted at least five times for driving after her license was revoked, once for driving with a suspended license and once for driving under the influence of amphetamine and methamphetamine.
She’s also been convicted of speeding twice, once for going 87 miles per hour in a 70 zone and also for traveling 77 mph in a 65 zone.
So that makes me scratch my head, unless of course her sister has a significantly worse record.
Another possibility is that the actual driver was impaired at the time of the crash. And looking back at previous coverage, it seems that is where things are pointing:
Ongoing police investigation has suggested that it was not Sarah, but in fact Samantha who was the driver involved the in crash, and who was potentially impaired.
Among the evidence that supports that conclusion, on Sept. 26, law enforcement spoke to a coworker of the sisters who said that Samantha had admitted to being the driver at the crash. Samantha told the coworker that she was on methamphetamine and she had killed two Amish children after crashing into their buggy.
“I [——] up. I just killed two Amish people,” Samantha Jo Petersen allegedly told the coworker.
Phone records also point to Samantha as the driver. The phone number used to call 911 is the same number that Samantha provided to law enforcement at the scene.
A search warrant for a blood draw and a full set of fingerprints for Samantha was requested and granted by a judge on Sept. 26.
Update on the girls’ family
The story also provides an update on the family of the little girls. This community is in Fillmore County, but it’s not the better-known Harmony Swartzentruber group. This would be a more progressive church:
The family of Menno and Sara Miller live east of Stewartville, about 12 miles south of Rochester, where they continue to raise their six surviving children, ages 16 to a son born late last summer. The father helps train draft horses for the Bar M ranch near Windom in southwestern Minnesota.
Jamie Meyeraan, who helps run the ranch and whose family has been close to the Millers for many years, said “it’s really awesome people are being so generous” with their more than $88,000 in donations to an online campaign on behalf of a family that abides by its faith and does not have insurance.
“Every time I saw [the Miller children],” she said, “I saw nothing but smiles.”
If you’d like to donate to the fundraiser supporting this family, you can do that here.
A bad month for Amish on the road
As mentioned above, the past weeks have seemed to be particularly bad for buggy crashes. In addition to the four Amish children who lost their lives in New York and Minnesota, another Amish child, just three years old, was killed in Wisconsin, and a Missouri woman died after the buggy she was in was rear-ended. Other crashes causing injuries occurred in states including Maine and Missouri.