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Red River Valley Sugarbeet board member dies in a single-car crash; driver faces felony charges

Jason Schatzke, treasurer of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, died in a car crash on Nov. 12. Christopher Thompson, vice president of the Sugarbeet Research and Education Board, was the driver, who now faces felony charges.

Schatzke
Jason Schatzke died in a car crash. He was the treasurer of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association. Photo taken May 10, 2022 in Wheatland, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek file photo
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EDINBURG, N.D. — The treasurer of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association died in a single-vehicle crash Saturday evening in Walsh County and the driver has been charged with two felonies.

Killed was Jason Schatzke, 48, a Wheatland, North Dakota, resident and farmer. His family farm grows edible beans, sunflowers, corn, wheat, soybeans and sugarbeets.

According to a report from the North Dakota Highway Patrol, Christopher Ryan Thompson, 46, of Grafton, North Dakota, was driving a 2022 GMC Yukon when it left the roadway of Walsh County Road 9 near the intersection of 133rd Avenue Northeast and struck a tree about 9 p.m. on Nov. 12. The road was snow-covered at the time. Schatzke, a passenger, died at the scene about four miles east of Edinburg.

Thompson, who was not injured in the crash, is vice president of the Sugarbeet Research and Education Board.

There were six people in the vehicle when it crashed. Schatzke was unrestrained, while the others were wearing seat belts. Another passenger, Rodney Olson, of Halstad, Minnesota, suffered minor injuries. Uninjured passengers were Brent Baldwin of St. Thomas, North Dakota, Anita Olson of Halstad, and Tanya Schatzke of Wheatland.

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Randy Olson is a recently retired board member of the American Sugarbeet Association. Baldwin is the vice president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association and a board member of the American Sugarbeet Association. The Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association declined to comment on the crash.

According to court records, Thompson was charged Monday, Nov. 14, in Walsh County with two counts of injury or death resulting from driving under the influence. One count is a Class A felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and the other count is a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

A man in a white Titleist cap and a maroon sweatshirt looks at the camera. He has strawberry blonde hair.
Christopher Thompson
Courtesy / Sugarbeet Research and Education Board

Bond for Thompson was set at $50,000, but he could be released from jail if he posted $5,000 in cash. His first appearance in the case is scheduled for Dec. 13 in front of Northeast District Judge Barbara Whelan.

Law enforcement detected a strong alcoholic odor coming from Thompson, according to a criminal complaint. Officers also said Thompson had red glossy eyes and "slight slurred speech," the complaint said.

Thompson said he was fine when asked if he had any injuries, the complaint said. He acknowledged having five or six beers throughout the night, according to the complaint.

Court documents said Thompson consented to doing a blood draw to determine his blood alcohol content, but the complaint didn't say what that percentage was.

The crash remains under investigation by the North Dakota Highway Patrol and Walsh County Sheriff's Department.

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