The judge agonized before sentencing a drunken driver who caused woman's death to a year in jail plus probation.
Tammi Fredrickson has been an Anoka County judge for more than six years, but she said that a sentencing this week for a drunken driver who killed a 28-year-old woman was the toughest she has faced yet.
Fredrickson was moved by the cruel randomness of the death of Christine Flaherty, whose car was hit last June by Tiara Fairbanks after Fairbanks had spent the night drinking. A stack of victim-impact statements overwhelmed the judge, and she said she spent hours reviewing them.
Fredrickson also was sympathetic to Fairbanks' struggles with substance abuse. After the crash Fairbanks, now 20, spent a year in an intense rehabilitation program, and passed 86 urinalysis tests for alcohol use.
State guidelines allowed a four-year prison sentence. Over the prosecution's objection, the judge gave Fairbanks a year in jail and 10 years' probation. The last four months of jail time will be served each June over four years to remind her of the month she killed Flaherty.
"I don't expect the family to get relief or appreciate what I have done, but I do appreciate them being here and the seriousness with which they have taken the job I have today," Fredrickson said before issuing the sentence.
So many people had come in support of Flaherty that the hearing was moved to a larger courtroom.
Some of Flaherty's relatives weren't happy with the sentence, said Jan Mansell, Fairbanks' attorney. Flaherty's brother cursed at the point when the judge said Fairbanks would get probation, according to a transcript of the hearing.
The Star Tribune obtained the transcript because Fredrickson said she couldn't discuss the case outside of court. Her remarks here are from the transcript.
Attempts to reach several of Flaherty's relatives Friday were unsuccessful.
Although departures from sentencing guidelines for this type of crime aren't uncommon, the prosecution still asked for prison time, said Paul Young, head of the violent crimes division for the county attorney's office. "These cases are always tragic for the family of the victim," he said.
Fairbanks, 19 at the time, was driving 55 miles per hour near 177th Avenue and Roanoke Street in Ramsey about 8:30 a.m. June 25, 2011, when her car hit Flaherty's, pushing it into a ditch, according to the criminal complaint. Fairbanks' blood alcohol concentration was 0.10 percent; the legal driving limit is 0.08 for someone 21 years and older. She was charged with felony criminal vehicular homicide. She pleaded guilty.
At sentencing, Fredrickson said she "took the bench today not knowing what I was going to do." She said these are the cases talked about at schools that train new judges.
"You know I'm supposed to say something now that this makes sense, and I can't. It is horrific," she said. "I am struck by how cruelly random this was."
She said the law allows her to depart from the guideline if there are substantial and compelling reasons and factors, such as if the person is amenable to treatment, the person's age, prior record, remorse, cooperation and attitude in court. The county correction department recommended the departure.
Fredrickson discussed Fairbanks' substance-abuse treatment but said she understood the family's concern that she did it only after Flaherty's death. She also raised Fairbanks' problems with alcohol since age 12 or 13 that were triggered by an abusive father and a mother who was a prostitute. "I promise I will hold her accountable," Fredrickson said.
Putting Fairbanks on probation for 10 years keeps her more accountable and gives her a better chance at remaining sober than if she served a few years in prison, said Mansell.
The day after Flaherty died, Fairbanks wrote a letter that she wanted to send to Flaherty's family, but Mansell told her to hang onto it for a more proper time. She read it Thursday. Mansell said Flaherty's mother wanted to talk afterward, but the deputies didn't allow it.
Fairbanks cried during the entire hearing and hopes the last year proves she can take charge of her life and make the right decisions, Mansell said.
Mansell said, "My heart goes out to Christine's family."
David Chanen 612-673-4465