Were it not for the steering wheel, the vise that sailed through Sgt. Jonathan Stacke's windshield and smashed into his face seven months ago in Bloomington could have killed him.
Instead, it's meant surgeries and rehabilitation for an injury from which the Iraq war veteran may never fully recover.
After the man who hurled it was sentenced to six years in prison for first-degree assault Tuesday, the Minnesota National Guardsman said he wasn't bitter -- just baffled.
"Ultimately, I'm just mystified as to why somebody would do that, especially at his age," Stacke said of Gerret Parks, 40, of Bloomington. "It's not like it was a kid throwing a water balloon."
A contrite, slumping Parks appeared much younger as he stood before Hennepin County District Judge Lyonel Norris and blamed a fog of depression and drunkenness for the two-month span in which he terrorized drivers along a busy stretch of road in Bloomington. Prosecutors said he threw heavy objects such as a gallon water jug and a dumbbell at moving cars. The crime spree culminated with Stacke's injuries. Parks claimed he remembered very little of what happened.
"I was in a very severely depressed state and was drinking heavily to some point of blackout," said Parks, dressed in an oversized jail jumpsuit, his hair unevenly cut. "I was out of control ... I just wish I would have been able to come to terms with it and stop it before it got so bad."
The judge told Parks that the explanation rang hollow.
"I understand depression. I understand chemical issues. I've been dealing with these issues for many years as an advocate and as a human being, and I've never seen anything like this," Norris said.
"Of all the things I see on a pretty regular basis that I don't understand, this is right at the top of the list."
14 incidents in two months
Parks was charged with six felonies, including first-degree assault and five counts of first-degree property damage. In exchange for a guilty plea last week for first-degree assault for Stacke's injuries, the remaining charges were dropped.
In all, police tallied 14 incidents that occurred on Normandale Boulevard between 84th Street and 98th Street from Dec. 29 to Feb. 27. In most of the cases, objects hit the front of oncoming vehicles and caused significant damage. Several victims reported that the items came from the driver's side of another car.
As part of his sentence, Parks must also pay restitution to Stacke and others whose vehicles he damaged, the county attorney's office said. Stacke is the only person known to have been injured by the items Parks threw. He was arrested on March 7 at his sister's home in New Prague. Days before, he suffered scratches and a black eye after resisting arrest following a drunken-driving allegation in Polk County, Wis.
'A complex individual'
During the hearing, Assistant County Attorney Deborah Russell said it was "stunning" that Parks claimed he did not remember a two-month-long span of throwing objects at cars. She told Norris the plea deal was in part to save the victims from trial.
Parks' attorney, Dan Guerrero, called his client "a complex individual" who struggled with inadequacy and depression after a long stretch of unemployment. Guerrero said Parks received an evaluation after his arrest that recommended he be placed in inpatient psychiatric treatment, but that he and the prosecution could not work out a deal to get him out of prison.
Guerrero said he was optimistic that Parks could receive the help he needs while incarcerated. Parks' mother, who was present during sentencing, declined to comment.
Stacke, who lost several teeth when his chin was crushed, is scheduled to receive a bone graft from his hip to his jaw Wednesday. Every time he recovers from one surgery, he said, he's scheduled for more. He wasn't impressed with Parks' apology, he said, but wants to move on.
His friend and fellow veteran, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Gettel, was in the passenger's seat that night and took the wheel before the car could veer into oncoming traffic. Given Parks' other crimes, he said, it's not so easy to forgive.
"Out of nowhere, you don't expect things like this to happen [outside] a wartime atmosphere," Gettel said. "You don't expect to hear loud explosions and see the people with you passed out and bleeding."
Norris was succinct with a final wish that Parks could spend the ensuing years working to understand the nature of his actions.
"Mr. Parks, I hope," he said. "I hope."
Star Tribune staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-4921