STEWARTVILLE, Minn. (FOX 9) - A woman has been formally charged in connection to a crash that killed two children riding in an Amish buggy in September 2023, after her twin sister attempted to take the fall for her.
Samantha Jo Petersen, 35, of Kellogg, Minnesota, is charged via summons with 21 crimes, including multiple counts of criminal vehicular homicide, criminal vehicular operation, driving while under the influence, careless driving and speeding in connection to the Sept. 25, 2023, crash that killed two children and injured two others.
Petersen is not currently in custody. Charges have not been filed against Samantha's sister.
Charges detail what happened in fatal buggy crash
According to the criminal complaint, at about 8:26 a.m. on Sept. 25, 2023, authorities responded to a crash involving a vehicle and an Amish buggy on County Road 1 in rural Stewartville, located in Fillmore County, Minnesota. When authorities arrived, they found an SUV with front-end damage parked along the shoulder of the southbound lane of County Road 1. Several people were in the ditch on the west side of County Road 1, just north of the SUV. The Amish buggy and a horse, that appeared to be dead, were also in the west ditch.
Two children, ages 11 and 7, died. A 9-year-old child sustained "great bodily injury", and the 13-year-old child suffered "substantial bodily injury," charges say.
A witness described the driver of the SUV that hit the buggy as a blonde woman wearing a Hy-Vee shirt. Witnesses said a second woman, who looked a lot like the driver, was also at the scene but "just sort of appeared." Both women were already at the scene when authorities arrived — one, later identified as Sarah Beth Petersen, was wearing a black coat, black leggings and thong sandals, and the other, identified as Samantha Jo Petersen, was wearing a red shirt consistent with a Hy-Vee employee uniform before she changed into a black tank top.
Sarah was visibly upset and told a Fillmore County Sheriff's deputy she was the driver of the SUV that hit the buggy. When the deputy asked her for her ID, she said it was in a black SUV — not the SUV involved in the crash — parked nearby, charges said. Meanwhile, Samantha said she took the wallet from the silver SUV and took it to the black SUV. Sarah showed the duty a paper copy of her temporary Minnesota license.
Deputies noted Sarah and Samantha look extremely similar.
Twin sister attempts to take the fall
Sarah told the deputy she was driving and didn't see the buggy before she hit them, charges said. She said the buggy was on the road, closer to the middle. She said she was heading home from work in Rochester, heading to Spring Valley to make sure her kids were out of bed and get them to school before going to work at 10 a.m. Sarah said the silver SUV involved in the crash belonged to her sister, Samantha.
A conversation between the sisters was recorded in which they discussed what law enforcement asked them, court documents detail. Sarah can be heard saying "I think that one of the guys is onto me but I don't really care" and "there's no way they would ever know the difference between the two of us so they can't tell."
Sarah told deputies she didn't feel like she did anything wrong but knew she hit someone, killed someone and would have to live with this for the rest of her life. Sarah then provided a picture of her insurance card, which had been canceled on Sept. 22, 2023, a few days before the crash. The silver SUV was not insured.
Deputies seized Sarah's phone as evidence.
Samantha's ID, which was in the silver SUV, was expired, charges state. Deputies also found a couple of burnt marijuana blunts and a small tin can commonly used to hold marijuana. A red T-shirt and black smock worn by Hy-Vee employees were also found in the silver SUV.
A GoFundMe created on behalf of the Amish family has raised $90,000 since the crash.
Text messages reveal the twin who was behind the wheel
The district store manager and human resources manager (HR) at Hy-Vee told investigators Sarah and Samantha both work for Hy-Vee. Samantha messaged them on Sept. 25, 2023, saying she messed up and was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the crash, charges said. The district store manager told investigators they believed Sarah would take the fall for Samantha because Samantha took care of Sarah's children while Sarah was in prison, and now she feels like she needs to help Samantha.
HR told investigators Samantha punched out of work at 7:47 a.m. on Sept. 25, 2023, and around 10 a.m. that day, she texted HR asking to call her. When HR called, Samantha said, "I f***** up," "I just killed two Amish people; they were kids," "I just hit a f****** buggy and I killed two people," and "I'm not sober." She admitted to being high on meth, and confirmed she called 911 before she called Sarah, and said she left the scene after Sarah arrived.
HR later provided text messages from Samantha admitting what she did. The text messages, dated Sept. 26, 2023. On the same day, Sarah texted HR saying she wasn't coming in because she was helping Samantha get into treatment.
Security footage from Sept. 25, 2023, of the parking lot of the Rochester Hy-Vee shows Samantha leaving the store at 7:58 a.m. and leaving the parking lot in a silver SUV at 8:02 a.m. It takes about 25 minutes to drive from the Hy-Vee to where the crash happened, charges said.
Deputies reviewed 911 calls from the crash. A call matching Samantha's number came in at 8:25 a.m., with charges noting the person on the phone was difficult to understand because she was "emotional and upset." At one point during the call, she can be heard saying, "I didn't see them coming up over the hill."
Investigators executed a search warrant at Samantha's home on Sept. 26, 2023. Sarah answered the door and said Samantha had moved to Stewartville in May 2023 after Sarah got out of prison. Sarah said Samantha paid their utility bill in Spring Valley on the morning of Sept. 25, 2023. Sarah also said she was wearing a red T-shirt, and Sarah had Samantha call 911 after the crash, charges said. During the search, deputies found Samantha inside the home. Samantha turned her phone over to investigators and provided a blood sample, per the search warrant. The results of the blood sample came back on Oct. 3, 2023, which showed the presence of methamphetamine, amphetamine and Delta-9 THC.
A school social worker, on Sept. 27, 2023, spoke with Sarah's 13-year-old daughter, who said, "My mom wasn't the one that was driving," and she drove to the scene of the crash after the crash.
A review of cell phone records shows Samantha's phone was at Hy-Vee at 5 a.m. on Sept. 25, 2023, she was near the Rochester airport at 8:11 a.m. and was at the intersection of Highway 30 and County Road 1 at 8:20 a.m. before her cell phone was at the scene of the crash at 8:23 a.m. A review of text messages between Samantha and a person identified as DH on her phone on Sept. 25-26 were:
- DH: "This little girl got killed today so sad"
- Sam: "Dan I don’t think you realize that I did that"
- DH: "I’m confused Sam: confused on what I hit that Amish buggy and killed two ppl"
- Sam: "made sarah come there and take the fall for it so i wouldn’t go to prison."
Investigators reviewed searches on Samantha's phone and found she looked up, "What happens if you get in an accident with an Amish buggy and kill two people," "How to lock an iPhone cops have," and "If you hit a buggy and kill two people are you going to prison?" and similar searches.
A crash reconstruction found the driver of the silver SUV was traveling between 63-71 mph at the time of the crash, despite the speed limit on the road being 55 mph. The view on the road was clear for 1,452 feet before the crash scene, and there were no obstructions.
Shortly after the crash, Samantha and Sarah moved out of their Spring Valley home and are believed to be living in Kellogg, Minnesota.
Samantha's criminal history shows she was convicted of fourth-degree DWI on Oct. 15, 2015, third-degree DWI on Aug. 6, 2018, and giving a false name to police on March 15, 2007.
Here are the court documents: