Kirsten Driscoll, a Minneapolis mother of three, will serve eight months in jail for killing Christopher Iverson as she drove home while drunk. "Something is wrong with the system," the victim's sister said.
She was surrounded by broken glass. She heard sirens. She saw a man unconscious, and then she realized what she had done.
Kirsten Driscoll, a Minneapolis mother of three, said Tuesday that she turns 50 this week, making her a few months older than Christopher Iverson, whom she struck and killed at a Lake Street bus shelter as she drove home while drunk last June.
"Every time I pass a bus station, I flash back to the horror of the crash," Driscoll said, reading from a statement in court in which she repeatedly apologized and expressed remorse to Iverson's family and friends. "I plan on reaching out to others so they do not make the same mistake ... especially women my age," she said.
Beginning Feb. 2, she will spend eight months at the county workhouse. She was sentenced to a year. She must serve the first four months in the jail full time. For the final four months, she can get out during the day and return to a women's shelter where she has been a longtime volunteer.
Driscoll pleaded guilty in November to criminal vehicular homicide. Her blood-alcohol concentration that night was 0.217 percent. The legal threshold for drunken driving is 0.08 percent. Driscoll was driving back to her East Isles neighborhood home from a party in St. Paul celebrating her daughter's graduation from the St. Paul Academy and Summit School.
Tuesday's court session left Iverson's surviving family members unsatisfied.
Claudette Mastro, Iverson's 74-year-old mother, said after court that the bus shelter is "eight blocks from my house and every time I go by, I think about my son laying on the sidewalk. I will never forget it. She didn't have to go to the hospital and see one of her children laying there in a bed, hooked up to life supports."
Last June, Driscoll headed west on Marshall Avenue in St. Paul. She has said she doesn't remember anything after crossing the Mississippi River bridge onto East Lake Street. According to the charges, shortly after midnight on June 14, Driscoll's car suddenly veered to the right and struck Iverson, throwing him through the air and knocking him out of his shoes. Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Krista Bettinger said Driscoll "took out a metal garbage container that was bolted to the ground" and decimated the shelter. Iverson died two days later, never regaining consciousness.
Iverson lived a few blocks from the scene. Reports said he had gone out for cigarettes and was chatting with a friend when he was hit.
On Tuesday, Driscoll stared at the defense table with her brow knitted. When she spoke, she stood up, her voice sad but clear as she repeatedly apologized. "Something like this can happen to anyone," she said. "All it takes is one ill-fated mistake in judgment."
The hourlong sentencing included tearful statements from Iverson's family and expressions of support from Driscoll's husband and from her sponsor in alcohol treatment.
Judge chokes up
Even Judge Mark Wernick, usually a steady presence, paused as he choked up in explaining to the Iversons that he understood they would be disappointed with the sentence.
"If I were in your shoes, I would feel the same way and I'm so sorry," Wernick said. The judge said cases like this one are the most difficult "when otherwise good people do something bad."
Iverson's sister Leslie Breeggman, of Lakeville, left the courtroom when Wernick said "probation." The prosecution sought a four-year sentence.
But the judge said that from 2001 to 2008 in Hennepin County, 23 defendants were sentenced for the same crime and 13 of them received the same sentence. The others had prior criminal convictions or fled the scene of the crash.
Wernick said Driscoll has a clean record, took responsibility, showed remorse, received treatment and continues in counseling.
Iverson's brother-in-law Bill Breeggman read a letter from Claudette Mastro in court: "I watched him take his first breath and I watched him take his last. No mother should ever have to go through that," it read.
Leslie Breeggman said afterward that she had thought Driscoll was only going to get probation, but that the jail time still isn't enough. "There is definitely something wrong with the system," she said.
Lori Schuda, a friend who considered Iverson "like a brother," also was disappointed. "If someone uses a gun on somebody, you're in jail for life," she said.
Sharon Gehrman-Driscoll (no relation), a victims advocate for Minnesotans for Safe Driving, said she thinks Driscoll should have received four years in prison.
"We've seen the same thing year after year, and I think we have to step up to the plate and say enough is enough and give the 48 months," she said.