Stephanie Carlson volunteered to take an 8-hour shift at a care facility for the elderly on Thanksgiving Day 2016 so a co-worker could spend the day with their young children.
The elderly residents needed company, too, Carlson told her family.
There would be many more Thanksgivings, her father, Steven Carlson, said he thought at the time. But just days later on Dec. 1, a woman driving 82 mph in a 50 mph zone slammed into the car Stephanie was riding in, killing her and Bridget Giere, both 16, and badly injuring Samantha Redden, then 17.
The girls were going to Mounds View High School when Rachel Kayl crashed into their vehicle on Hwy. 96 at Old Hwy. 10 in Arden Hills, sending it rolling several times.
“I see no signs of remorse or sorrow for the accident she caused,” Steven Carlson said at Kayl’s sentencing Wednesday afternoon. “No family should have to go through this hell.”
Kayl, 33, of Maple Grove, was sentenced in Ramsey County District Court to 10 years’ probation for the crash, and could face nearly 10 years in prison if she violates the terms of her probation. Her driver’s license will be revoked for six years.
Judge Thomas Gilligan Jr. also sentenced Kayl to serve a year in the county workhouse, but he said he would not require her to turn herself in until December 2019 because he had several questions about the county’s ability to house her due to her several unspecified physical and psychological medical conditions.
Gilligan plans to convene a review hearing on Nov. 29, 2019, to hear from Kayl’s doctors and corrections officials about how she can be accommodated in the workhouse.
Kayl reached a plea agreement with the prosecution and the family’s approval, and pleaded guilty in September to two counts of criminal vehicular homicide and one count of criminal vehicular operation. While both sides agreed to probation, Assistant County Attorney Hassan Tahir pushed for time in the workhouse as an additional punishment left to the judge’s discretion.
“This crash was completely preventable,” Tahir said.
Kayl’s attorney, Adam Johnson, said Kayl had “significant medical needs” that require up to four doctors visits a week and also used “several electronic devices” to manage her health. Kayl’s doctors recommended against time in the workhouse and a county corrections official said Kayl would be an “undue burden,” Johnson said.
Johnson did not specify Kayl’s medical conditions, citing privacy. He advocated for home electronic monitoring, which Tahir resisted.
Samantha Redden was the first to give a victim impact statement at Kayl’s sentencing as several dozen family members and friends packed the courtroom. Redden said she had no memory of the crash but recalled waking up in the car she was driving with the steering wheel crushing her chest so hard she couldn’t breathe.
“I hate that I never got to say goodbye,” said Redden, who was unable to attend her friends’ funerals. “I’ll always be haunted by the guilt I feel.”
Redden, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, among many other injuries, said the pain in her hips and shoulders and the scars across her skin will always remind her of her best friends’ deaths.
“To me,” she said, “justice will never be served.”
Bridget’s parents, Marilee and Martin Giere, said she loved to volunteer at Feed My Starving Children, spend time with her family, play poker and babysit the neighborhood children.
“Our family is a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing,” her mother said.
Stephanie’s parents, Catherine and Steven Carlson, remembered her as someone who loved her friends, cats, running and astronomy. She was the youngest of their five children.
Both families also said they felt that Kayl tried to minimize her role in the crash and believed she was remorseful that she was caught, not that she killed two girls.
“There’s a gaping wound in our hearts,” Catherine Carlson said. “There is no reprieve from this sentence for us.”
Kayl, who cried throughout the victim impact statements and pressed a string of rosary beads between her palms, apologized to the families and told the court that she felt “incredible guilt” for her actions.
“I struggle every day and wonder why I am here and they are not,” she said. “I accept every hardship I endure.”
Tahir noted that in legal arguments filed before her guilty plea, Kayl pointed some blame at Redden, who turned through the intersection on a yellow arrow. Tahir said the only person at fault was Kayl, who sped dangerously while driving to work.
Redden waited for four cars and a school bus to pass through the intersection before making a legal turn, but Kayl was driving too fast, he said.