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Walsh County commissioner-elect resigns following crash that killed sugar beet executive

Christopher Thompson is accused of driving under the influence when he crashed into a tree last month. The crash killed Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association Treasurer Jason Schatzke.

 Christopher Thompson.jpeg
Christopher Thompson
Walsh County Jail
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GRAFTON, ND. — A Grafton man who was elected last month to the Walsh County Commission has decided he won't take the seat after police said he was drunk when he crashed his vehicle and killed a sugar beet executive just days after the election.

Christopher Ryan Thompson, 46, submitted his resignation Nov. 22, Walsh County Auditor Kris Molde confirmed Friday, Dec. 2, to The Forum. He was slated to be sworn in on Tuesday, Dec. 6, when the commission met.

The resignation comes less than a month after Thompson was charged in Walsh County District Court with driving under the influence vehicular homicide and causing an injury while driving under the influence. Thompson hit a tree when he was driving a 2022 GMC Yukon on Nov. 12 about 4 miles east of Edinburg, North Dakota, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

The crash killed Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association Treasurer Jason Schatzke, who was one of six passengers in the vehicle. The Wheatland, North Dakota, man was 48 years old.

The Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association represents roughly 2,700 sugar beet growers in North Dakota and Minnesota who cooperatively own American Crystal Sugar Co.

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Thompson’s passenger, Rodney Olson, 57, of Halstad, Minnesota, suffered minor injuries. Thompson and three other people in the vehicle were not injured, the Highway Patrol said.

Officers said they detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from Thompson, according to a criminal complaint. Thompson 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 his BAC level was not stated in the documents.

Thompson faces a maximum of 25 years in prison if convicted of both charges. His first appearance in court is scheduled for Dec. 13.

Thompson was one of three Walsh County Commission candidates elected during the general election on Nov. 8. Commissioner Dennis Skorheim grabbed the most votes with 20.86%, followed in second by challenger Amy Suda with 18.18%, according to official results.

Thompson also was a newcomer in the race. With 17.64% of the vote, he defeated incumbents Ernie Barta (16.97%) and Lawrence Burianek (16.62%).

Sixty votes separated Thompson and Barta.

Thompson was also the vice president for the Minnesota and North Dakota Sugarbeet and Education Board, a group of sugar beet farmers who promote research, education and sugar beet production. Board President Eric Erdman confirmed that Thompson stepped down from that position.

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Thompson’s successor will be determined at a later date.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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