Ann Blake's family sat in a Hennepin County courtroom Monday, looking for justice as a Maple Grove woman pleaded guilty Monday to driving drunk when she killed the 54-year-old mother of two.
"Nobody wins here," said George Gmach, who is married to Blake's sister, Jean. "But if there is a message in this, it's that these things can happen to you."
Linda Hamm, 62, pleaded guilty to a single count of criminal vehicular homicide in Blake's death. Hamm's blood alcohol content was 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent. An open vodka bottle was found in her vehicle.
In an earlier court appearance, Hamm's attorney explained that his client suffered from dementia and significant cognitive disorders from a "long downhill slide" due to a series of aneurysms.
And that's the lesson, George Gmach said: Family members and friends need to intervene when they notice a family member may be impaired while driving because of a medical condition or addiction. "This is an awareness issue," he said. "You need to take action. You can't wait. ... Failure could result in a loved one being incarcerated or be life-changing for the victim and the perpetrator."
On Monday, Hennepin County District Judge Daniel Moreno sentenced Hamm to eight years in prison but stayed that for 10 years and ordered her to serve one year in the County Workhouse.
Hamm must also undergo chemical dependency and mental health treatment and cannot use alcohol or nonprescribed drugs and will undergo random testing. She must also do 120 hours of community service after she is released from the workhouse.
"Most of us in the family looked at it and said at least justice has been done," George Gmach said. "More jail time isn't going to bring Ann back."
Blake's two children, twin 13-year-olds, are having to cope with losing their mother just months after their father died from cancer. The two are living with family members.
"The boy is autistic. He knows he doesn't have a mom anymore. He misses his mom and cries for her," George Gmach said. "We've gone through some very difficult days with him. Her daughter is a straight-A student and she's coping. She has some times when she's very sad."
Minutes before the Jan. 31 crash that killed Blake, police began following Hamm after getting a call about an erratic driver. Standing on a curb nearby was Blake and her sister, who had decided to take a walk on a warm winter day. As they waited for the walk signal to cross Hemlock Lane, Hamm drove up onto the concrete median and hit Blake. According to police, Hamm continued driving east, crossing all lanes of southbound traffic on Hemlock before crossing over the median and striking a northbound vehicle that was waiting for the light to change, pushing it into another vehicle.
Blake was thrown across at least four lanes of traffic after she was hit by Hamm, who was traveling at about 40 miles per hour, George Gmach said. She died at the scene.
It's a moment that Jean Gmach can't forget. More than just sisters, they were best friends who got together at least once each week and talked nearly every day. "What happened shouldn't have happened," Jean Gmach said, breaking into tears before leaving the conversation to her husband.
"She's still grieving," Gmach explained.
"It was just a random act. Unpredictable," George Gmach said. "And it could have been prevented with some commonsense intervention."
Mary Lynn Smith •612-673-4788