William Koehler

William Koehler, left, speaks with his attorney, Tom Slorby, Thursday in a Divide County courtroom after he pleaded not guilty to three charges of manslaughter in connection with a deadly crash near Crosby in August.

CROSBY — A North Dakota Highway Patrol trooper testified Thursday that video of a deadly crash in Divide County appears to show a pickup truck slamming into the back of a stopped car “at highway speed.” 

Trooper Kenton Kossan testified a preliminary hearing for William Koehler, who pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in connection with the crash, which killed two children and their father. 

Kossan also said surveillance cameras on a nearby business captured the impact from two separate angles. 

The videos show a car coming to a stop at the direction of a flagger in a construction zone on Highway 5 near Crosby, followed by Koehler’s pickup rear-ending it “at what appeared to be highway speeds.” 

A 2-year-old girl and her 8-year-old sister died from the impact, and their father, Lesely Gunderson, 30, of Noonan, who was behind the wheel, died the next day later in an area hospital. 

Gunderson’s 4-year-old son was the sole survivor of the Aug. 23 crash. 

Koehler, 49, of Florida, was arrested in September on three charges of manslaughter. According to court records, he admitted to investigators that he’d been using his cell phone before the crash. 

Investigators found no evidence that Koehler tried to slow down, Kossan testified. 

“There were no pre-impact skid marks that would indicate there was any braking,” he said. 

An airbag control device taken from his truck showed that Koehler was traveling at 74 miles per hour about five seconds before the crash, but had slowed to 62 miles per hour half a second before impact, Kossan said. 

Prior to the hearing, attorneys, citing worry over the amount of media attention that the case has received, argued that reporters should not be allowed in the courtroom. 

“I certainly understand and respect the media, but by the same token I’d be shocked if we could get a fair and impartial jury,” Divide County State’s Attorney Seymour Jordan told Northwest District Judge Robin Schmidt. 

Schmidt acknowledged attorneys’ concerns but did not reverse an order issued Wednesday allowing cameras in the courtroom. 

Schmidt ruled that there was enough evidence for the case against Koehler to move forward.

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