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Tractor operator charged in death of motorcyclists

State Patrol reconstruction specialists say Curtis Petzel was using a ball on the hitch of his tractor that was too small, causing the cattle trailer to break away.
Credit: Sibley County Sheriff's Office
Curtis Marc Petzel is charged in the deaths of two motorcyclists killed when a trailer broke away from his tractor and rolled into their lane.

GAYLORD, Minn. — A Sibley County farmer is charged in the deaths of two motorcyclists after a trailer he was pulling came off the hitch and rolled into oncoming traffic.

The criminal complaint filed against 60-year-old Curtis Marc Petzel details how State Patrol reconstruction specialists found that the defendant was using a ball on the hitch of his tractor that was too small, causing the cattle trailer to break away. Investigators say Petzel was also not using the safety chains attached to the trailer, and had no battery in a break-away safety brake system. 

RELATED: 2 killed after motorcycle hits detached farm trailer

Troopers were dispatched to a location on State Highway 19 near Sibley County Road 65 on June 1, after reports of a farm trailer versus motorcylists crash. After arriving on scene investigators learned that a group of riders from Aberdeen, SD on vacation were headed towards Treasure Island Casino when a 16-foot livestock trailer came loose from the tractor that was pulled it and veered into their eastbound lane. Two people on the lead cycle, later identified as 60-year-old Marvin Fandrich and his wife 61-year-old Kathy Fandrich, were struck and killed. 

Petzel is charged with two counts of manslaughter, two counts of criminal vehicular homicide, and both reckless and careless driving. Those charges come just two years after Petzel was convicted of careless driving in an incident where another motorcycle was killed. Authorities say he rear-ended a vehicle with his pickup and pushed it into the path of an oncoming motorcycle rider who was killed. 

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