In a move that stunned attorneys and the court, the family of the men killed and injured by a driver who drunkenly sped into a bus last summer offered their forgiveness at his sentencing Wednesday.
Markus Jackson and Kenneth Foster’s family members told Tyler R. Bjelland, 27, that they forgave him, and urged him to use the experience to save lives.
“I want you to be able to be an advocate … to tell people, ‘Don’t drink and drive,’ ” said Foster’s best friend, Yolanda Sims.
Ramsey County District Court Judge Sara Grewing said the five people who gave victim-impact statements showed “incredible grace and mercy and compassion.”
“It also leads me to believe that you were led by a great man,” Grewing said of Foster.
Grewing sentenced Bjelland, of Minneapolis, to 10 years in prison for criminal vehicular homicide, and five years for criminal vehicular operation. The sentences were longer than recommended in state guidelines, and will run concurrently.
Foster was killed in the July 21 crash when Bjelland, who was traveling 91 to 98 mph as he fled an earlier hit-and-run crash, went airborne and sliced through a Metro Transit bus at Charles Avenue and Dale Street.
Foster, 48, was riding the bus home from work. Jackson, 20, was badly injured. He was on the bus to go see his girlfriend.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Margaret Gustafson Samec told the court that Bjelland’s blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit, .08, to drive at the time, and that several other bus passengers and the bus driver were traumatized by the crash.
Bjelland pleaded guilty in the case, and agreed to the maximum sentences even though his criminal history and sentencing guidelines would have called for shorter terms, said his attorney, Kelley Malone O’Neill.
Given a chance to address the court, Bjelland said, “I just appreciate the family being … forgiving.”
Malone O’Neill said Jackson’s and the Foster family’s forgiveness was unlike anything she had seen in her 30 years as an attorney.
Foster’s daughters, Kenyatta Foster and Lawanda Foster Larson, and one of his sons, Damarus Brown, also spoke in court.
“You have a long life ahead of you,” Brown said. “This is your chance.”
Bjelland’s stepmother quietly wept as the family spoke. Jackson, Sims and others hugged her as they left court.
“It was touching,” Bjelland’s father, Bruce Bjelland, later said of their forgiveness.
Kenyatta Foster said afterward that although it was “very hard,” she forgave Bjelland after praying on the matter.
“My dad would have forgave him,” she said. “It takes more effort to be angry than to forgive and live your life the way my dad wanted.”