Drunken driver to serve time for death in 2009 Dakota County crash

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 15, 2012 - 8:42 PM

Jeffrey Martin had three of his children in the car when he struck another car, severely injuring its driver and killing her husband.

Jeffrey A. Martin

It used to be the holiday everybody looked forward to.

But on Christmas Eve 2009, Jeffrey A. Martin drank, got behind the wheel of his Dodge Durango -- three of his children in the back seat -- and broadsided another car driven by Susan Shaffer, severely injuring her and killing her husband, Everett Letterly, 88.

"Within seconds, our holiday tradition was destroyed by a drunk driver," Shaffer, still recovering from a brain injury, told Judge David Knutson on Wednesday in a Dakota County courtroom, asking him to send Martin to prison. "For our family, our Christmas will always be a time when we remember the events of 2009."

After nearly two hours of emotional testimony from families of the victims and the offender, Knutson sentenced Martin to 1 1/2 years in jail and 13 years on probation. During each of his first three years out of jail, Martin will also have to serve 30 days house arrest, and for the entirety of his probation he will have to do 30 hours of community service annually related to the prevention of drunken driving.

A jury had convicted Martin in October 2011 of criminal vehicular homicide, criminal vehicular injury, child endangerment and drunken driving related to the crash at the intersection of Dodd Road and Gerdine Path in Lakeville.

The sentence was less severe than the recommended four-year prison term sought by prosecutors and Letterly's family, but more punitive than the probation proposed by Martin's attorneys.

In explaining the sentence, Knutson squarely blamed Martin for the Letterly and Shaffer family's pain, admonishing some of Martin's family and friends who continued to question his fault and refer to the crash as an accident.

"The funeral of Mr. Letterly could just as easily have been a funeral for the Martin children," Knutson said.

But he also acknowledged that Martin seemed remorseful, had been sober and has sought treatment since the crash and would have to spend the next 13 years thinking about his actions and working to prevent drunken driving.

The consequences, Knutson said, are partly about punishing Martin "but will go on to be larger than this case."

The decision brought little solace to Shaffer and her family, many of whom spoke about the emotional and financial damage caused by the crash, and missing their strong and playful grandpa.

They said they wished Martin, who showed no emotion during the sentencing hearing, were more demonstrative of his remorse.

"We're just glad that he's locked up, I guess," Shaffer said outside the courtroom. "We hope justice was served today."

Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286

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