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Dad: Distracted driving may have led to son's fatal crash into Red River

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accidents Perham, 56573
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

FARGO - The family of the man who died after his car was submerged in the Red River believe distracted driving may have caused his death.

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James Dean Gress, 32, of Moorhead died Monday morning at Sanford Medical Center. He was rescued from his vehicle after a crash Saturday along a curved section of Broadway across from the wastewater treatment plant in north Fargo.

Authorities are still trying to determine how the crash happened, Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said Monday, but a cause of death has not yet been determined. An autopsy has been ordered.

Gress and his wife, Sarah Chatelain-Gress, delivered a baby girl at Sanford less than three weeks ago. Gress has three older children, Alexandra, Chad and Mary Ann.

Gress' father has imagined his son's last moments as he drove to Fargo to see his wife and baby.

"Clearly, this is just my opinion, but, unfortunately, he learned how to drive from me, which was way too fast for that intersection. I can see my son going too fast and either talking on the cellphone or texting or playing with that stupid stereo system. I can see him doing that," Gress said.

Gress and his father reconciled in the past two years after addiction had torn them apart.

"My son was a drug addict. I had to cut him out of my life. Then he met Sarah, his wife, and they started to build their life together," James Gress Sr. said. "They brought him back to me and my family for the last two years. That little boy that I knew turned into a man."

Gress grew up in Fargo. He was studying at Minnesota State Community and Technical College and was working for Northern Steel Supply.

Chatelain-Gress said she had known James Jr. since she was 15 years old and he was 18.

"He was my other half. That's who he was. I honestly don't know how I'm going to keep going. This is the person that I've lived day in and day out with," she said.

The two battled addiction together but thanks to a local anonymous recovery program had been clean a number of years. They married in October.

"We were kind of an urban Romeo and Juliet story. We've been friends forever," Chatelain-Gress said.

She said the addiction recovery community in Fargo is one of the best, a tight-knit family that Gress and she are proud to be a part of it. She and his father said they only hope the tragedy of his death may have an impact on those who knew him.

"It will affect people who are in the recovery. There will be people who will probably stay clean because of it," Chatelain-Gress.

The family said Gress was definitely clean at the time of his death. He was excited for the turn his life had taken.

"He's touched a lot of people's lives. He was very happy to take part in his older daughter's life, and it was a gift from God for getting clean. It was very, very important to him," Chatelain-Gress said.

Gress said his son liked to go fishing with him and would often surprise him by arriving in church on Sundays to meet him. He said it's hard to put into words what it's like to lose his son so quickly.

However, he is grateful for the chance to reconnect with his son, something he attributed to Chatelain-Gress and recovery programs.

"He was a very good young man who found a way to live life a little different than other people," Gress said. "Unfortunately, I never got to see him grow old and to have gray hair like his father's."

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