Family of Burnsville motorcyclist killed by drunk driver tells of ruined lives
- Article by: Pat Pheifer
- Star Tribune
- July 2, 2014 - 9:48 PM
One by one, Jeff Trondson’s family members and friends strode to the front of a courtroom in Hastings on Wednesday to talk about how his death ruined their lives.
Trondson, 29, of Burnsville, was killed in June 2013 when his motorcycle collided with Leah Colwell’s vehicle. She was driving drunk. Her blood alcohol level was 0.32 percent, four times the legal limit. Her driver’s license had been canceled after one of her five previous alcohol-related driving offenses.
“The last thing Jeff said to me was, ‘I’ll be back in 20 minutes, Pops,’ ” said the victim’s dad, Dave Williams. “The next thing I know, I’m looking at my son dead in the street. Everything I love, dead in the street.”
Brother-in-law Kevin Drometer said Trondson was there for him on his wedding day, the birth of his children, and countless hunting and fishing trips.
“I’m not here seeking personal revenge,” he told District Judge Michael Mayer. “I’m only seeking justice for our beloved Jeffrey.”
Family ‘broken in pieces’
Colwell, 45, and her two passengers were headed to a friend’s house to keep drinking. She was eastbound on 160th Street in Apple Valley and turned left onto Harwell Avenue, directly in front of Trondson’s motorcycle.
She pleaded guilty May 1 in Dakota County to criminal vehicular homicide and driving after cancellation and was in court Wednesday to be sentenced. At least 70 of the victim’s family members and friends were there to watch as she received the maximum sentence, 3 years and two months behind bars.
Sister Jessie Drometer said Colwell’s “irresponsible decisions have broken my family in pieces.”
Andy Schad, a friend since middle school, said: “I had just asked Jeff to be best man at my wedding. He was thrilled.”
Schad told Colwell, “You stole my best friend. I felt like I had been cut right in half. Since then I’ve been in a downward spiral — depression, anxiety, insomnia.
Williams was the last to speak.
“This is the shirt Jeff was wearing when Leah killed him,” he said holding up a black T-shirt. “Do you recognize this, Leah? Do you?”
In his family, Williams said, opening day of fishing and hunting seasons have always been “every bit as important as Thanksgiving and Christmas.” He remembered watching his only son and his friend shooting clay pigeons at their cabin Up North. Williams said he chose to just watch and knew then that he was “building rocking-chair memories.”
Now, he said, seeing his son dead will be his rocking-chair memory. Hunting, fishing and going to the lake have no meaning for him anymore.
“I look in the mirror in the morning and I don’t know how I am,” he said. “God damn you, Leah.”
Plenty of chances
Colwell had been free on bail but was arrested June 4 after a random test turned up drugs in her system.
Prosecutor Jennifer Bovitz told the judge that Colwell has a “history of being afforded treatment opportunities.” Her previous alcohol-related offenses have resulted in probation, not prison.
“Leah Colwell’s idea of fun since age 16 has been drinking and driving with friends,” Bovitz said. “She is a danger to the public who needs to be locked up as long as the law allows.”
“Two families have been ruined by this,” Mayer said before sentencing Colwell. “You had one job while waiting for sentencing,’’ he told Colwell. “Only one job. To remain sober. And you blew it.”
Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284
© 2014 Star Tribune