The 19-year-old admitted to police he was putting out a cigarette when he blew through the stop sign — at a speed witnesses put at more than 55 miles per hour — and killed two seniors as they left a county fair in southern Minnesota.
Now Christopher J. Schneider of Lake Crystal, Minn., has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and will have to speak before gatherings 30 times about distracted driving.
Schneider pleaded guilty this past summer to three misdemeanor traffic offenses: careless driving, being an uninsured driver and driving without a valid license. He faced no felony counts in the July 2015 crash on eastbound County Road 9 outside the Blue Earth County Fair in Garden City.
Roderick M. Elbert, 74, and his wife, Kathy E. Ohman, 75, both of nearby North Mankato, who were heading north on Hwy. 169, died at the scene.
An official at the Vine Adult Community Center, where the couple lived, said Ohman had performed with the Stompers dance group at the fair shortly before the crash.
In an interview after sentencing with the Mankato Free Press, Assistant County Attorney Steve Kelm said that evidence of gross negligence would have been required for prosecutors to bring more serious criminal charges, such as felony criminal vehicular homicide. Kelm said prosecutors did not believe the facts met that threshold.
“I wish we could do more, but we’re bound by what the statutes say,” Kelm told the newspaper.
Schneider told a state trooper at the scene that he had smoked synthetic marijuana the previous night, was playing music on his phone and “was just putting out his cigarette in the ashtray” at the time of the collision, the charging document continued.
In the vehicle’s center console was marijuana, drug paraphernalia and a partly filled pill bottle, the charges read.
Schneider’s attorney, Kristine Weeks, told the Star Tribune that the level of the charges was based on their being “no evidence to suggest there was any alcohol or controlled substances in his system.”
Weeks said that during sentencing “everyone who was in the courtroom could see that [Schneider] was very emotional. He read a statement [saying] how sorry he was and how this accident continues to haunt him.”
One of Ohman’s children, Mitzi Roberts, said Tuesday that while some felt it wasn’t enough time in jail, she chose to forgive Schneider almost immediately. “I saw his remorse, I felt his remorse,” Roberts said, noting she put aside rumors she heard about Schneider’s “tough-guy lifestyle.”
Roberts said she was “thrilled” that Schneider’s sentence includes him speaking to young people about distracted driving.
“That alone is really going to be impacting thousands of kids,” she said. “All the kids who are in these drivers training classes are going to know my parents. ... Those kids are going to remember that, rather than watching a video or reading book. ... They will be seeing the actual driver and hearing his words.”
Schneider was on his way to pick up his mother, who told the State Patrol that she knew her son didn’t have a license and the vehicle was uninsured, according to the charges.
Schneider’s sentence Monday before Judge Gregory J. Anderson allows for release from jail to attend school. He will be on probation until September 2017.
Ohman and Elbert married in 1999. Along with children from previous marriages, they are survived 12 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild.