A truck driver who killed two women and a fetus in 2010 was shown mercy on Tuesday as a judge sentenced him to a year in jail and probation instead of 12 years in prison.
Jason Styrbicky, of Buffalo, Minn., was convicted of three counts of criminal vehicular homicide and careless driving in May.
Sentencing guidelines called for four years in prison for each death. But Judge Karen Asphaug listened to the pleas of Styrbicky's family, his attorney, a probation officer and even family members of one of the victims asking that he not be sent to prison.
Styrbicky, 38, accepted responsibility for the crash in Lakeville, which also caused the release of more than a million bees in another truck.
Asphaug gave him three consecutive four-year terms in prison, but then spared him the prison time in favor of probation and a year in jail. Probation can be up to 10 years.
Killed in the crash were Pamela Brinkhaus, 50, of Elko New Market; Kari Rasmussen, 24, of St. Anthony, and Rasmussen's 8-week-old fetus.
Only Todd Brinkhaus, Pamela's husband, addressed the court in person on Tuesday to make a victim impact statement before the sentence was pronounced.
He said he trusted the judge and would accept whatever judgment was handed down.
After the sentencing, Todd Brinkhaus was true to his word, telling reporters that he thought the sentence was just. "I believe he is remorseful," he said. "He didn't plan to do this. It was accidental. I'm happy with the verdict."
Asphaug said she believed that Styrbicky was remorseful and that the deaths weigh on him, as he and his family maintained to the court in letters.
Her decision was based partly on the fact that the Rasmussen family was not asking for Styrbicky to be sent to prison.
She also pointed out that Styrbicky "is everyman" and that the crash could have happened to anyone who isn't paying attention to the road.
"He will live with a sentence of his own creation and his own doing that is greater than any this court could give him," the judge said.
During the trial earlier this year the judge determined that Styrbicky had his eyes off the road for at least 16 seconds -- enough to travel more than a quarter mile on a freeway. Styrbicky told authorities he was searching for an energy drink that had fallen.
By the time Styrbicky found it and looked up, it was too late to stop his truck from plowing into traffic stopped because of road construction on Interstate 35. In addition to the deaths, more than a million bees were released from another truck that was damaged, hindering rescue efforts as motorists and emergency workers were stung.
The convictions carried a recommended sentence of up to 48 months in prison for each death, which in this case would total 12 years.
Prosecutor Thomas Lockhart had sought 57 months in prison. The judge overlooked that, especially after hearing from a probation officer who conducted a presentencing report for the court in which he talked to the defendant, his family and the relatives of the victims.
Probation officer Jon Gilbertsen told the judge in court that Styrbicky is depressed and probably suffering from post- traumatic stress disorder.
"Sending him to prison would exacerbate this," Gilbertsen told the judge. "He might come out of prison in worse shape."
The judge agreed.
Along with the jail time, she ordered Styrbicky to pay a $500 fine, make future restitution to the families, do 40 hours of community service each year he is on probation, write a letter of apology to the families and participate in a future meeting with the families.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said he respected the court's ruling. "I think the judge took into account the remorse of the defendant," Backstrom said. "This was a terrible tragedy that was avoidable."
Prior to hearing his sentence, Styrbicky had his attorney read letters to the court and to the families present.
"I'm very sorry for their losses," the letter said. "I think about them every day. I have affected their lives beyond measure as well as my own."
Heron Marquez 952-746-3281