CENTER CITY, MINN. – In heart-rending court testimony Thursday, the family of 8-year-old Alan Geisenkoetter shared how their lives changed when he was killed last year by a drunk snowmobiler.
He was the center of his parents’ lives, they said, a hunter and outdoors-lover who could operate the family snowblower, but also the kind of kid who held his grandmother’s hand at the dinner table when she wasn’t feeling well.
“He liked to show love, and he had lots to give,” said his father, Alan Sr. “He would have made a great man.”
Minutes later, a 46-year-old man from Chisago City was sentenced to 12 ½ years in prison for driving the snowmobile that struck both Alan Jr. and Alan Sr. on Chisago Lake in January 2018.
Eric J. Coleman was convicted in December of third-degree murder for plowing into the Geisenkoetter family, from Wyoming, Minn., as they set up a fish house on the frozen lake.
Judge Suzanne Bollman delivered the sentence Thursday morning at the end of an emotional two-hour hearing in Chisago County District Court. Recalling Alan at his best moments, like the times he donned his chef’s hat to help his grandmother bake, or at his prankiest when he shot his mother with Nerf darts after bedtime, a memory she joyfully recalled in court, family members said they will never get over losing him.
Alan’s aunt, Gwen Kocher, cried throughout her statement as she recalled her nephew. “He holds a special place in my heart,” she said.
Kocher’s older son mourned the loss of his best friend, she continued, while her younger son has drawn pictures of Alan as an angel looking over a jail cell that holds Coleman, a repeat drunken driver.
“This man chose not to seek treatment,” said Kocher. “He deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Another aunt, Kelly Shearman, described how the family had just lost her father to pancreatic cancer only weeks before Alan’s death. “It’s not fair,” she said.
And Alison Cromie, also an aunt, said she had created a website — IrememberAlan.com — to help friends and family share stories about the boy they knew as a hunter, fisherman, and operator of anything with a motor, including a sewing machine.
“It’s hard to not hear him come into his room,” said his older sister, Lexi, who said she couldn’t stop crying when Alan died.
Alan’s grandmother, Marybeth Lonnee, said the pain of losing the boy was so great that at first she couldn’t even look at photos of him. Even as she updates photographs of her four other grandchildren, she said, “Little Alan in his picture frame is going to remain 8 years old.”
Ellie Geisenkoetter, Alan’s mother, said she wakes every day hoping that her son’s death was a nightmare and that he’s still sleeping soundly in his room near hers.
“How can a mother live without one of her children?” she said. “There is nothing that will ever repair my broken heart.”
At times, Coleman teared up, occasionally dabbing his eyes with a tissue.
“I hope the words of the Geisenkoetter family stay with you the rest of your life,” Bollman said before delivering the sentence. “Your decision that day has forever altered the Geisenkoetter family.”
‘Little Alan’s Law’
In addition to the murder sentence, Bollman also sentenced Coleman to a year in prison for causing bodily harm to Alan Sr., who was injured in the crash. The sentences will be served concurrently.
Coleman drove his snowmobile at high speed through the family’s ice fishing camp the night of Jan. 26, 2018, dragging Alan Jr. about 100 feet. The boy suffered a traumatic brain injury and died five days later after being removed from life support.
Coleman’s blood alcohol level was 0.165 three hours after the crash, more than twice the legal limit, prosecutors said. He previously had been charged three times with drunken driving, had had his license revoked and an ignition-locking system placed on his vehicle.
In December, a Chisago County jury found Coleman guilty on all charges against him, including drunken driving and vehicular homicide.
Alan’s death sparked calls to close a loophole in state law that allowed a person convicted of drunken driving in a car or truck to continue to legally drive a snowmobile, ATV or motorboat. “Little Alan’s Law” went into effect last year.
His family said Thursday that the law was already making a difference. A snowmobiler crashed into a parked pickup truck early Sunday on East Rush Lake, a few miles west of Rush City, Minn., critically injuring his passenger. The snowmobiler was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.
Coleman, who spoke briefly before the sentencing, said he was sorry for his actions and that he’s worked over the past year to become sober. His addiction left everyone suffering, he said.
“I think it’s time that we move on and begin to heal,” he said. His attorney’s motion for a reduced sentence was denied shortly afterward.
Speaking outside the court, Alan Sr. was asked about what Coleman had said.
“You don’t really move on,” he said. “It stays with you. You live with it. You don’t really learn how to deal with it. You more or less learn how to deal with other people.”