A Maple Grove woman who sped into a car carrying three Mounds View High School students in 2016, killing two and badly injuring a third, pleaded guilty Thursday to the crimes in exchange for 10 years' probation instead of prison time.
Rachel Kayl, 33, pleaded guilty in Ramsey County District Court to two counts of criminal vehicular homicide and one count of criminal vehicular operation in the Dec. 1, 2016, crash. Two counts of second-degree manslaughter were dismissed.
Bridget Giere and Stephanie Carlson, both 16, died at the scene. Samantha Redden, then 17, survived with life-threatening injuries. The teenagers were heading to school.
"It's such a tremendous, debilitating feeling," Martin Giere, said of losing his daughter. "I cry every day."
Catherine and Steven Carlson, Stephanie's parents, said they were glad Kayl took responsibility for her actions. Kayl was scheduled to plead guilty Wednesday, but the deal seemed to fall apart and the case was set to go to trial next Monday. She apparently made an about-face, prompting Thursday's hearing.
"It was a long time coming," Steven Carlson said afterward. "I think she finally took ownership of what happened."
"We were all crying," Catherine Carlson said of approximately nine family members and friends in attendance.
Redden was also present, but declined to comment.
Kayl could face about 10 years in prison if she violates the terms of her probation. She agreed to stayed consecutive sentences of four years in prison for each the vehicular homicide counts and 1½ years in prison for the vehicular operation count. Her plea also calls for up to a year in the county workhouse at the judge's discretion. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 19.
Kayl was driving her Chevrolet Trailblazer 81-82 mph in a 50 mph zone on Hwy. 96 at Old Hwy. 10 in Arden Hills when she struck a Chevrolet Equinox being driven by Redden, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, among other injuries.
Kayl testified that it was still dark when the crash occurred about 7 a.m. She was going to work as a nanny.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Hassan Tahir asked Kayl if she was traveling at the same speed as other cars.
"Yes," she said, prompting a police investigator sitting behind the victims' families to shake her head.
"You think that you were?" he asked.
"I was keeping up with the flow of traffic … but I don't recall," Kayl said.
Kayl said she had no memory of her car's speed, but did not dispute evidence from her car's recording module that said she traveled 82 mph seconds before the crash.
"I remember slamming on the brakes," Kayl said.
Tahir told Kayl that her car recorded no use of her brakes at the time.
"I agree with the evidence, but I don't recall because it was — I was in shock," she said.
Kayl testified that she saw a "white figure" pull out in front of her but didn't see any headlights on. She repeated her assertion that she "slammed" on her brakes.
The charges filed against Kayl show that she was traveling east on Hwy. 96 when she crashed into the Equinox, which was turning from the westbound lane of the highway onto southbound Old Hwy. 10.
A witness reported that Kayl "blasted through the light going really fast," the charges said.
The car carrying the three girls rolled multiple times before coming to rest in the upright position.
Only speeding was discussed at Kayl's plea hearing as a factor in the crash.
"People need to slow down," Steven Carlson pleaded.
The families have worked with North Heights Lutheran Church located near the crash scene to establish a public memorial garden on its campus at 1700 W. Hwy. 96.