South St. Paul driver topples streetlight at library, leaves scene


The fallen streetlight involved in the crash remained on the ground the afternoon of Jan. 21. The surveillance footage posted on the South St. Paul Police Department's Facebook page garnered nearly 16,000 views, and led investigators to the driver, a city commissioner. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Police post video searching for man, turns out to be city commission member

A South St. Paul Planning Commission member recently got more safety testing than he bargained for while test-driving a car, according to police.

John Ross, 58, who a few weeks ago was considered as an applicant for an open City Council seat, is facing a misdemeanor charge of fleeing the scene of a crash, after a car he was driving felled a city streetlight in front of the South St. Paul Public Library Jan. 13.

Search for driver

Because the crash happened across the street from City Hall and the police department, at Marie and Third avenues, City Hall surveillance cameras recorded the incident. South St. Paul police posted the video on the department’s Facebook page at 7 a.m. Jan. 14 in attempt to identify the driver. 

“We didn’t know who the driver was, and we were looking for help from the public to help us identify the driver,” Police Chief William Messerich said. “When you’re involved in a crash, you’re certainly responsible for the damage you caused, and it needs to be reported.”

Though an estimate has yet to be completed, Messerich said the public works department estimates the streetlight damage may cost around $5,000. 

Ross is charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly leaving the scene without reporting damage to a property owner — in this case, the city — even though the police department was right across the street, according to the incident report.

According to state statute, the maximum sentence that can be imposed for a misdemeanor is 90 days in jail or up to a $1,000 fine, or both. 

Ross, a city of St. Paul code enforcement officer, has been a member of the South St. Paul Planning Commission for 12 years and represents South St. Paul on the Dakota County Planning Commission. He was a finalist recently in the running to fill a South St. Paul City Council vacancy and garnered one council vote in the final round of preliminary voting; William Flatley was later appointed to the seat.

Through his attorney, Paul Rogosheske of Rogosheske, Rogosheske, & Atkins in South St. Paul, Ross declined to comment on this article.

Hits pole, purchases damaged car

According to the incident report and the surveillance video, Ross was turning left onto Third Avenue North from Marie Avenue in a 2006 white Ford Taurus at 4:49 p.m. Jan. 13. 

From the video, it appears the Taurus rolls through the two-way stop sign on Marie, begins to turn left and then speeds up and swerves to avoid a van that has the right-of-way entering the intersection from Third. The vehicle veers across the intersection and hits the streetlight at the northeast corner of the intersection, in front of the library. The pole topples over.

The driver of the Taurus then pulls over, gets out of his car, and walks around it towards the fallen post. Then, he gets in and drives away. 

It all happens in under a minute.

By 4:53 p.m., Ross reportedly returned to the dealership and purchased the car, according to the police report’s summary of surveillance footage and witness accounts. 

Because the car had what appeared to be a dealership sticker in the window, and no front license plate in the video, police determined it was from a dealership, the report said. Police then tracked down the Taurus, which had a cracked front bumper, still in the dealership’s garage Jan. 14. Ross reportedly planned to pick it up that day.

A Facebook favorite

Meanwhile, the car dealership owner saw the video of the incident on Facebook, and thought it looked like the car he sold to Ross the night before, the report said. He apparently left a message for Ross to call the police, according to the incident report.

Police called Ross the afternoon of Jan. 14, and he reportedly told them he was already on his way to the police department. 

Investigators met with him just after 5 p.m. Jan. 14, when he admitted to hitting the pole, the report said. Ross said he had a mechanic in Inver Grove Heights inspect the vehicle. On his way back, he said he didn’t see the oncoming van until the last second, leading to the crash.

According to the report, police “asked Ross why he did not just call police or call the city as he was right next to city hall?”

Ross reportedly apologized and said “he just panicked and did not want his wife to find out the car had been in an accident.” 

Police then mailed the misdemeanor citation to Ross.

Meanwhile, the South St. Paul Police Department Facebook page is getting an unusual amount of traffic. On a page where the main images and videos are BCA crime alerts and photos of the department’s K9, Sammy, the streetlight video was viewed more than 6,500 times within nine hours of posting, according to Messerich.

By Jan. 22, views hit nearly 16,000, accompanied by 63 “likes” and 165 “shares.”

Ross is due to appear in court in West St. Paul at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 19.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews

To view video click here.

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