Suspect in hit-and-run death of Bemidji man violated probation 3 times
BEMIDJI -- Martin Erwin Ubert, arrested Tuesday for the July 31 hit-and-run death of Christopher Lee Strong, fatally struck a horse with his vehicle in February and fled the scene, according to police.
Ubert was on probation for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test in 2010 when he struck the horse on Feb. 20, and tested positive for methamphetamines when a deputy with the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office caught up with the now-58-year-old the next day, according to a police report. The positive drug test is one of three probation violations committed by Ubert since that incident. Police believe Ubert also fled on July 31 after striking and killing Strong, and is scheduled to be arraigned for that alleged crime Thursday in Beltrami District Court.
Clearwater County, where Ubert was convicted in 2010 for refusing to submit to testing, wants to revoke his probation, as made evident by the warrant he’s currently being held on at the Beltrami County Jail for his most recent alleged violation -- the arrest in connection with Strong's death.
Ubert was convicted by Clearwater District Judge Robert Tiffany for refusing to take a breathalyzer test after being arrested following an April 24, 2010, traffic stop. That day, a deputy with the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office spotted a bottle of alcohol in Ubert’s vehicle, and believed Ubert to be under the influence, according to court documents. Ubert passed a breathalyzer test at the scene, but later refused to submit to a second test after being taken into custody. As a result of the conviction for that crime, he was placed on four years probation, the conditions of which require him to remain law-abiding, to not possess alcohol and to not incur any driver’s license infractions or driving without proof of insurance.
Ubert violated those terms at least three times -- twice in Beltrami County and once in Itasca County, court documents showed. Each violation was a petty misdemeanor that resulted in a fine.
Trish Hanson, district supervisor for the Department of Corrections, confirmed the three violations were reported to Tiffany, but the disposition of Ubert’s conviction for refusing to submit has not changed. Any actions taken by Tiffany as a result of the violations could not be determined because they are either included in confidential probation progress reports, Clearwater County court administrator Lori Weibolt said, or because they were handled “informally” by Ubert’s probation officer, Hanson said.
The first violation was the hit and run, occurring near the intersection of Highway 89 and Aure Road, that killed a Bemidji woman’s horse. The Beltrami County sheriff’s deputy who investigated the animal’s death noted a cup with vodka and orange juice was found in Ubert’s vehicle, which was badly damaged and had horse hair on the hood. The deputy questioned Ubert about the alcohol, who admitted to drinking the night before, according to a police report. A breathalyzer that day showed no alcohol in Ubert’s system, and the urine analysis that showed methamphetamine in his system was reported to probation officials.
On April 8 Ubert was cited for driving without insurance, as well as driving after revocation. That infraction occurred in Bemidji, with Ubert eventually paying $285 in fines and fees. He pleaded guilty on July 12 to his third violation -- possessing an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle -- and paid $185 in fines and fees, according to court documents. Additionally, Ubert pleaded guilty in October 2011 and paid $185 in fines and fees in Itasca County, where he was cited for allowing a passenger in his vehicle to possess an open container of alcohol.
“Keep in mind, you cannot incarcerate for petty misdemeanors,” Hanson said. “Once a violation has been filed, the judge makes the determination from there. There have been at least three violations filed with (Ubert’s) case.”
Ubert is the only person who has been arrested in connection with Strong’s death. A newspaper carrier for The Pioneer discovered Strong’s body just before 4:30 a.m. July 31 near the intersection of Grange and Nature roads northeast. He was 25.
Police initially knew little about the vehicle that was involved in the collision, but later released its make and model. Ubert turned himself in Friday and police seized the red Monte Carlo they believe struck Strong. Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said Tuesday an arrest was not immediately made due to the forensic examination of the vehicle that occurred over the weekend.
Hodapp indicated police have knowledge of Strong’s whereabouts in the 24 hours that preceded his death, but would not elaborate due to the pending nature of the charges.
Following the hit-and-run killing of the horse, Ubert was booked into the Beltrami County jail for driving without insurance and leaving the scene of the accident, according to the report. He eventually paid $200 in fines and fees as a result of the incident.
Ubert is scheduled to be arraigned at 11 a.m. Thursday.