DNA on boat trailer links Hastings man to hit-and-run death of Lake Park girl, charges say

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AITKIN, Minn. -- DNA matching a 10-year-old Lake Park girl killed in a hit-and-run earlier this month was found on a boat trailer driven by a Hastings, Minn., man now charged in connection with her death, court records say.
Steven L. Meier, 44, was charged Wednesday, June 22, with two counts of felony criminal vehicular homicide in the death of Caylin Donovan, who was killed after being struck by a vehicle earlier this month near Lake Mille Lacs in Aitkin County.

Witnesses said Donovan, who was staying with family at a home near the lake, was collecting rocks when she was struck and killed June 10 at the end of the home's driveway along State Highway 18.

Meier was arrested Monday in connection with the crash, as was Deborah Chandler, who was traveling with Meier but driving a separate vehicle. According to the complaint, Chandler told investigators she knew Meier had hit something and she felt horrible for not stopping.

A court complaint filed Wednesday in Aitkin County District Court alleges Meier caused the girl’s death while operating a motor vehicle and that he left the scene without alerting authorities. Charges against Chandler are still pending.

According to information contained in the complaint:

A witness named Joel Jader called authorities about 8:10 p.m. June 10 to report he was in his screened-in porch when he heard a loud bang and then heard a large truck accelerating away.

He said when he looked toward the highway he saw a white pickup pulling a camper that was also driving away quickly and he surmised the two trucks had been traveling together.

Jader said he walked down a driveway and found Donovan’s body lying on the highway.

On June 12, a Minnesota State Patrol trooper obtained video footage from a gas station which showed a maroon Chevrolet Tahoe pulling a camper westbound on State Highway 18 and turning south onto U.S. Highway 169 near the time of the crash.

The next day, the trooper found a maroon Tahoe and camper at a campsite in Aitkin County. A white Jeep Cherokee and a boat and a trailer were also at the campsite.

The trooper approached the campsite and spoke with Meier and a woman identified in the court documents as Chandler. Chandler said she and Meier had traveled on State Highway 18 to reach the campground but denied seeing anyone on the highway.

Meier, who said he had been driving the Jeep pulling the boat, said he had not seen anything either, and he denied hitting anything.

A trooper noted that the boat trailer had damage on the right side near the wheel well fender.

Following the crash, witnesses told authorities they had seen the girl sitting on the shoulder of the highway near the fog line, and Jader told authorities the girl may have been picking up rocks. The medical examiner reported to authorities that Donovan was found to have several rocks in her pocket.

Authorities located video at Barnacles Resort located about three miles from the site of the crash that showed Meier’s Jeep and the Tahoe driven by Chandler went by the resort at about 7:49 p.m. the night of the crash.

The court records indicate that a tire tread mark found on the girl’s thigh closely resembled the tread on the tires of Meier’s boat trailer.

In a follow-up interview with troopers, Meier said when they got to their campground Chandler told him she had seen a lady on the side of the road but that she thought it might also have been a deer.

Chandler told troopers she thought she saw a deer and at the last second realized it was a lady on the road by the fog line, and she had to move over to avoid striking the body.

She said when they got to the campground she asked Meier if he had seen the body on the highway, and he said he did not see anything.

Chandler stated she was unaware that Donovan had died until the next day when someone at a bar told her about the incident. She told the trooper she felt guilty for earlier lying about what she had seen or not seen and she said she felt horrible for not stopping.

Authorities later seized the boat trailer and DNA matching the girl’s was found on the wheel well.

Both Meier and Chandler remained in custody Wednesday morning.