Sister of woman in I-94 death: ‘She had so much pain’MOORHEAD – Kristi Garden’s lifetime of private mental health struggles came to a sudden public end Saturday night when she apparently jumped from the 34th Street over-pass here and was struck by a westbound vehicle on Interstate 94.
By: By Ryan Johnson , Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
MOORHEAD – Kristi Garden’s lifetime of private mental health struggles
came to a sudden public end Saturday night when she apparently jumped
from the 34th Street over-pass here and was struck by a westbound
vehicle on Interstate 94.
Just hours earlier, the 55-year-old Moorhead woman was released from a
psy-chiatric ward where she had been for the past three-and-a-half
weeks, say her sister and longtime live-in boyfriend.
Younger sister Julie Garden-Robinson said Garden dealt with mental
health issues since she was 19, relying on medications and occasional
hospitaliza-tion to get better. But it was something she didn’t talk
about with most of her friends and family, espe-cially the residents
of Gary, Minn., where they grew up.
“In fact, even my kids didn’t know, so this was just a shocking thing
for them,” Garden-Robinson said. “She didn’t want anyone to know that
she had depression and anxiety other than the ones she chose to tell,
and the fact that this became so public is what is just shocking to
She said her sister was “enormously talented” and, for the most part,
kept her mental health struggles in the background. She received a
master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Texas at
Austin, landing roles with an opera company as a soprano and earning a
spot as a soloist with a sympho-ny while performing in Austin and
Since moving to the Far-go-Moorhead community in 1999, she had worked
at several public schools in Fargo as a substitute music teacher.
But Garden-Robinson said the disease “would get a grip on her” from
time to time. The most recent struggle started in July, when she
followed her doctor’s advice and went off antidepressants.
She said her sister was scheduled to go in for a checkup with the
doctor Sept. 19. But things took a turn for the worse before that
appointment and, on Sept. 11, Garden-Robinson brought her to an
emer-gency room because she was concerned about her condition.
Garden-Robinson said it seemed that her sister was determined to get
back to the healthy, happy person who loved to spend time with her
nieces and neph-ew and enjoyed fashion, decorating and the beauti-ful
things of life.
“She kept saying, ‘I’m going to get better,’” she said. “All along,
she said, ‘I’m going to fight this; I’m going to get better.’”
Trying to get better
Garden was hospitalized and put on new medica-tions to try to get her
prob-lems under control, said boyfriend Mel Fredricksen.
Fredricksen said it was clear to him that his girl-friend, who he met
12 years ago and lived with in a house on 33rd Street South in
Moorhead for the past four years, wasn’t ready to be released. He said
he often took her out of the hospital for a few hours at a time to go
shopping or get dinner, but she complained about not being able to
sleep, and her new medications hadn’t fully taken effect.
“It’s really a shame what the poor girl went through,” he said.
The Forum is choosing to not name Garden’s medical provider because it
cannot at this time substantiate the family’s version of events. When
contacted by The Forum, a top executive for the medical provider said
the specifics of a pa-tient’s case can’t be dis-cussed because of
privacy laws, but mental health issues are “incredibly complex.”
Garden-Robinson said doctors were able to get Garden’s panic attacks
under control, even if she said she felt “so drugged I can’t think.”
Garden made appointments for this week to see a new doctor and
therapist and on Saturday she was released after about three and a
half weeks of hospitalization, her sister said.
But Fredricksen said he was worried that it was too soon.
Garden-Robinson said she and her husband on Saturday picked up Garden
at the hospital, taking her to the house she shared with Fredricksen
at about 1:30 p.m. and staying with her until they went home around
Fredricksen said Garden told him she was feeling “tense” and wanted to
go for a quick walk to calm down. He said that wasn’t out of the
ordinary – she liked to go for evening walks near their south Moorhead
home, often taking their dachshund Lilly.
He insisted that she take a cellphone and his heavy-duty flashlight,
just in case something happened, and told her he would call in a few
“She said, ‘I should be fine,’” he said.
Garden left around 7:30 p.m., and Fredricksen later tried to call but
she didn’t answer. That’s when he saw the lights of an ambu-lance pass
by their home, and he tried to call two more times before getting in
his truck to look for her.
But instead of finding his girlfriend, he noticed the westbound
off-ramp of I-94 was closed and saw an ambulance and squad cars on the
“I had a gut feeling then that there was something seriously going on,” he said.
Minnesota State Patrol investigator Rod Eischens said authorities
received a report of somebody on 34th Street running in and out of
traffic around 8:20 p.m. A caller soon reported that there had been a
collision between a pedestrian and a vehicle on the interstate below
that overpass, he said, but no eyewitnesses have come forward to say
they saw Garden either jump or fall from the over-pass.
The Minnesota State Pa-trol is still investigating the incident, and
an autop-sy is being done.
Fredricksen said he called the Moorhead Police Department when he saw
what was going on, de-scribing Garden to officers to see if she
matched the description of the pedestri-an who had been struck by an
SUV driven by Benja-min R. Deraas, 25, of Fargo.
“But then it was kind of a waiting game,” he said.
About 30 minutes later, two Minnesota State Patrol troopers showed up
at his door to confirm Garden had died in the accident.
Overcoming the stigma
Fredricksen said Garden gave no warning that she was suicidal that night.
Garden-Robinson said her family, as well as her brother Craig who
lives in Burnsville, Minn., are still in “total shock” about what
happened on Saturday night.
“I never in a million years would have expected this,” she said. “This
is the shock of my life. She had so much pain, and I think she felt
that medical help just wasn’t available to her.”
Still, Garden-Robinson said sharing her sister’s struggles with mental
illness could prompt more discussion on the issue and help families
avoid this type of tragedy.
“I hope that her legacy can be that it’s OK to talk about mental
illness the way we talk about cancer and heart disease,” she said.
“There’s still a stig-ma, and it’s unfortunate.”