Prosecutor: Man who killed Grand Forks teens in crash was suicidal

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“I still haven’t learned to talk about him without crying,” said Judy Danielson, referring to her grandson Ethan Carsen. “He’s a very loving and lovely child. And he was just a kid, he had just turned 17.”

Ethan Carsen was killed on Highway 220 in East Grand Forks in June 2021, along with his passenger, Damien Powell, 16. Police said their SUV was hit head-on by a pickup truck.

After a four-month investigation, prosecutors say it appears the driver, Valentin Mendoza, 20, intentionally caused the crash to kill himself. Court documents say that just three minutes before the crash, Mendoza sent a video threatening to kill himself to his girlfriend. He would have driven at 75 mph in a 45 mph zone.

Ethan Carsen’s grandparents, Dave and Judy Danielson.News of the day

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“Anytime you remember it was intentional by a person, it starts all over again in your mind,” said Dave Danielson, Ethan Carsen’s grandfather.

Mendoza is charged with two counts of homicide and driving which could lead to a 10-year prison sentence. Ethan Carsen’s family and friends say it’s not enough.

“In my mind, it was murder,” Dave Danielson said.

However, a defense attorney WDAY News spoke to said a murder charge would be difficult to prosecute.

“It looks like he was just trying to hurt and kill himself,” said Blake Hankey of Hankey Law Counseling & Attorneys At Law in Grand Forks. “I didn’t see anything to show that he was trying to kill the other driver, or the people in the other vehicle, or that he had that intention.”

Mendoza has been on the run since August, when he was released on bail after being arrested for a probation violation. Mendoza – who also has close ties to Texas – was not allowed to be in Minnesota until he completed his conviction for robbing a gas station in Grand Forks in 2019.

For Judy Danielson, family duties will never be the same without her grandson Ethan.

“He was the one saying thanks to all of our entertaining,” said Judy Danielson.

She also hopes the cops will tighten the handcuffs on Valentin Mendoza soon.

“His character (from Mendoza) is horrible, and he has to be put aside,” she said.

Ethan Danielson’s mother says their hearts are broken forever. But justice will help the family heal over time.

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