The family of a man killed early Monday in a traffic collision said he would still be alive if a State Patrol trooper hadn’t chosen to chase a drunken-driving suspect through downtown Minneapolis streets.
Brody A. Sotona, 20, a budding musician from Wisconsin, died when his vehicle was T-boned by a driver fleeing the State Patrol. His passenger was critically hurt.
The State Patrol said the chase underscores the perilous nature of law-enforcement efforts to stop drunken drivers.
“Drunk drivers kill over 100 people a year [in Minnesota],” Lt. Eric Roeske said at a news conference. “Do you just let him go or do you try to stop him?”
That decision fell to a State Patrol trooper who stopped driver Yia Her, 34, of St. Paul, on westbound Interstate 94 in downtown Minneapolis shortly before 1 a.m. Monday.
The State Patrol said Her, who was driving on a suspended license, took off when the trooper pulled him over and led the trooper on a three-minute chase through downtown. Her was hospitalized with noncritical injuries. Sotona, who grew up in Spring Valley, Wis., died about 1 a.m. His passenger, Connor W. Macklin, 24, of Stillwater, was in critical condition Monday.
In a written statement issued about 13 hours after Sotona was killed, his family challenged the State Patrol’s decision to pursue Her.
“The family would like to know why the Minnesota State Trooper pursued the suspect into a high-speed chase in DOWNTOWN Minneapolis at 1 o’clock in the morning when it is quite clear that they already had the suspect’s license plate and likely the name and address,” the statement said. “If they would not have pushed him, our son and brother would still be alive today.”
Roeske explained that the trooper pursued Her because the motorist was creating a public danger by speeding and driving under the influence. Roeske added that if Her had obeyed the trooper, the crash would not have happened.
Later, addressing the family’s criticism directly, Roeske said the patrol is “deeply saddened by the tragic and sudden loss” of Sotona due to a suspected drunken driver. “The trooper was attempting to stop the driver as quickly as possible to prevent the kind of tragedy the driver ultimately caused,” he said.
Her’s driving record in Minnesota includes at least 17 violations since 2001, with 10 of those being for speeding. He also has been cited for driving without a license. Roeske said Her’s license was suspended at the time of the crash.
Her’s run-ins with the law also include a conviction in July 2012 for felony third-degree assault and two subsequent convictions for violating a domestic-abuse no-contact order. All three were in Ramsey County.
Deaths from police-related chases have increased in Minnesota and nationwide over the past 30 years, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Such deaths averaged two per year in Minnesota in the 1980s and 1990s. They rose to 3.6 per year on average in the 2000s. In 2011, the last year for which statistics were immediately available, seven people were killed in police-related chases, five of them in the vehicles being chased. Nationwide, 303 people died in police-related chases in 2011.
Sotona attended Spring Valley High School in western Wisconsin. He graduated in 2010, was his school’s Prom King that year and participated in baseball and golf.
He went on to study at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, starting in the fall of 2011 and majoring in sound arts, a school official said. He was not enrolled there this semester.
Sotona and Macklin were members of the band Crush, which plays rock, punk and alternative music in the Twin Cities area. Sotona sang and played bass.
“Brody was a fun-loving 20-year-old who enjoyed life to the fullest,” the family said in the statement. “Brody had a passion for music and his band Crush. He loved to have a good time with friends and family and will be missed tremendously by them.”
Sotona had been living in the Dinkytown area while his band “played a bunch of different places in the city,” said Beth Ingli, a longtime family friend. “The good news was that he stopped home quick last night before he headed back to the Twin Cities.”
Four attempts to stop
The State Patrol said the trooper pulled over Her’s car in Minneapolis along westbound Interstate 94 near the 11th Street S. ramp on suspicion of speeding and drunken driving. The trooper got out of his car to speak with Her, but Her took off into downtown.
The trooper twice tried a maneuver to force Her’s car to a stop, but the tactic did not work. The same maneuver was tried twice more as Her fled across the 3rd Avenue Bridge.
“The trooper made numerous attempts to try and end this safely,” Roeske said.
A few blocks later, Her crashed into Sotona’s car and a building at SE. 4th Street and Central Av. SE., just across the Mississippi River from downtown. The entire incident lasted barely more than three minutes, Roeske said.
The intersection where the crash occurred was controlled by lights. Roeske said it’s not yet clear who had the red light or what speed Her was driving at the moment of impact.
The trooper’s identity has yet to be released. Further investigation is now in the hands of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and will include a crash reconstruction by the patrol.