FCSO warrants: Woman accused of driving car in fatal buggy crash may have swapped places with sister

(ABC 6 News) – The Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office has filed search warrants alleging that a Stewartville woman involved in a fatal buggy crash called her identical twin sister to the scene to take the fall. 

According to court documents from early October an investigator with the FCSO applied for and received a search warrant for Sarah Beth Petersen’s blood after the woman allegedly failed field sobriety tests Sept. 25. 

The Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office originally reported that Sarah Beth Petersen was the driver in the crash that killed 7-year-old Wilma and 11-year-old Irma Miller of Stewartville near Sumner Township, Fillmore County.

RELATED: 2 dead and others injured in car vs. buggy crash in Fillmore County – ABC 6 News – kaaltv.com

The silver Toyota 4Runner that struck the buggy carrying four children was registered to Samantha Jo Petersen, Sarah’s identical twin sister. 

Tim Lanning was on his way to work when accident happened. “As I got closer, I was able to see what was left of the buggy. As I got a little closer, I saw the horse laying in the ditch. as well as an Amish girl standing over, whether it was a sibling that was hurt or one that was deceased, I don’t know,” said Lanning.

Law enforcement noted that a black Toyota was parked at the shoulder of County Road 1 — also registered to Samantha Jo Petersen.

Both women were present at the scene when law enforcement arrived, according to search warrant filings.

RELATED: Victims identified in fatal crash involving Amish buggy in Fillmore County Monday – ABC 6 News – kaaltv.com

According to a later search warrant application, Sarah Beth Petersen was seated in a patrol car, where Samantha Jo Petersen allegedly spoke to her through the window.

Captured audio allegedly revealed that the two were discussing how officers cannot tell them apart.

One day later

On Sept. 26, the same investigator applied for and received a search warrant for Samantha Jo Petersen’s blood and cell phone, after an individual told law enforcement they had received texts from Samantha indicating that she had been the driver in the crash, not her sister, and that she had been under the influence of methamphetamine at the time. 

According to the applications for the search warrants, the investigator with the FCSO spoke to two Hy-Vee Rochester employees Sept. 26, who told him Samantha Jo Petersen had called and texted one of them and told them she was the driver in the crash. 

“Your affiant has reason to believe Samantha contacted her identical twin sister Sarah to show up to the crash scene and represent herself as the driver of the silver Toyota,” a search warrant affidavit reads.

According to the Hy-Vee employee, Samantha Jo made contact at 10 a.m. Sept. 25 and spoke about killing two people in a crash.

According to the affidavits, Samantha Jo Petersen told the employee “I’m not sober,” and when asked about alcohol, said ‘no, that’s not my first choice,’ and ‘I’m high on meth.’ 

The search warrant application suggests that the above statements were paraphrased by the Hy-Vee employee, who later said Samantha Jo texted them to say that she’d called 9-1-1 about the crash, then called her sister Sarah to the scene.

Another Hy-Vee employee suggested that law enforcement look at surveillance video from the Crossroads store on the morning of Sept. 25. 

According to the employee, Samantha Jo Petersen had clocked out of work before 8 a.m. Sept. 25 and gotten into the silver Toyota involved in the crash. 

A later search warrant application states that Samantha Jo was seen walking to the vehicle, smoking what appeared to be a cigarette, then using the lighter for something else.

She allegedly left the parking lot around 8 a.m.

The Fillmore County crash happened about 25 minutes later. 

RELATED: Community support pours in for family who lost 2 kids in buggy crash – ABC 6 News – kaaltv.com

Finally, the search warrant applications suggest that Samantha Jo Petersen’s phone was used to make the 9-1-1 call reporting the crash, allegedly before Sarah Beth Petersen arrived on the scene, according to the FCSO investigator.

Applications also allege that Samantha Jo sent the self-incriminating messages through a Hy-Vee messaging portal at a time when Sarah Beth Petersen was being questioned by officers and was not using her cell phone.

Lanning says these alleged actions are unacceptable. “It’s horrible. So have some respect for the people. Yeah, it sucks you’re probably going to go to prison, but you deserve it,” said Lanning.

A confusing track record

According to another warrant application filed Sept. 26, after taking one of the twins into custody at their home and taking a blood draw, the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office applied for another warrant to fingerprint the twin, as they were uncertain whether the woman who had identified herself as Samantha Jo Peterson was the correct one.

“From prior law enforcement contacts it has been found Sarah and Samantha have identified themselves as the other,” that application read.

Each of the Petersen sisters has multiple traffic violation, speeding, and DWI convictions.

Samantha Jo Petersen was cited for speeding and possession of drug paraphernalia in March after a traffic stop at Broadway and Jefferson Street, Fillmore County.

Citation issued to Samantha Jo Petersen March 25, 2023 in case number 23-VB-23-101

According to court documents from 2017, Sarah Beth Petersen had previously identified herself as “Sam Petersen” to law enforcement, after being pulled over while driving a black minivan after her license had been revoked.

Criminal complaint filed against Sarah Beth Petersen Sept. 28, 2017 in case number 23-CR-17-595

The search warrants related to the Sept. 25 crash were filed publicly in Fillmore County Court in early October.

Sheriff’s deputies also filed search warrants for system data and physical evidence from the Toyota, which remains in the custody of law enforcement, per filings, and seized Samantha Jo Petersen’s red-and-black Hy-Vee outfit, as well as suspected drug paraphernalia, according to a filing from Oct. 4.

Sheriff John DeGeorge said law enforcement is still gathering information related to the case, and no arrests have been made.