CAMBRIDGE, MINN. – A grieving family and friends filled two Isanti County courtrooms Friday, seeking justice for a 15-year-old boy left to die on a rural road after being hit by a driver who didn’t stop.
The day in court never would have happened, family members said, if they hadn’t chased down the facts needed to charge the driver that investigators missed. Still, even a judge’s sentence Friday felt hollow for relatives shattered by the loss.
They wanted the driver sentenced to years in prison for killing the teen, Antonio DeMeules. Instead, the judge handed down the sternest penalty the law and sentencing guidelines allow for leaving the scene of an accident — 162 days in jail and four years’ probation.
DeMeules was riding his skateboard on a rural Isanti County road the evening of Sept. 10, 2015, when he was struck by a pickup truck driven by Adam Maki of Isanti. Maki, 32, never stopped, later telling investigators that he thought he hit an animal.
He turned himself in to police the next day, saying that he hadn’t realized what he had done until he saw news reports about the crash.
Months after they buried Antonio, the family was outraged that no charges had been filed. Antonio’s aunt, Sheila Potocnik, and her son, Steven Moore, pushed for answers, requesting and combing through reports from the Minnesota State Patrol, the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
They found cellphone records that indicated Maki may have been on his phone at the time of the crash, that he had been drinking earlier and that he had tried to open phone apps 45 minutes after the crash in hopes of listening to police scanner traffic. Last summer, they took everything they knew about the accident to investigators.
Sheriff Chris Caulk said Friday that his investigators missed the portion of the BCA report that indicated Maki had tried to listen to police scanner traffic minutes after the crash. That was the key to reopening the case, he said.
“If you hit a dog or a turkey, why would you open a police scanner app to listen to what police were saying?” Caulk said. The missed information was an oversight that Caulk said police have to own. “We’re not perfect people and that’s why we were willing to listen to what they had to say,” he said.
DeMeules’ relatives and friends are still outraged by the initial investigation. But Friday, broken in grief, they focused on seeking the most severe punishment possible. They stood in prayer before the hearing and wore T-shirts and buttons with Antonio’s smiling face. And then, one by one, those who knew Antonio best talked about an unbearable loss.
He was an exuberant kid who loved to fish, bike, skateboard, cook and snowboard. He mentored children at church and designed inventions in his room. He planned to join the Army and open a restaurant. Instead, family members and friends talked about what’s no longer possible — getting a driver’s license, dancing at prom or walking down the aisle to get married.
“He had his whole life ahead of him,” his mother, Renee Salazar, told the judge. “He was who this world needed.”
In a brief statement, Maki told the family he was “deeply sorry” for their loss, saying, “I wish I could go back and change that night.”
Having lost a son to cancer, Anoka County District Judge Douglas Meslow said he understood the loss of a child. “I know many of you want me to send Adam Maki to prison for a long time,” he said. “That’s not in my power.”
Officials said they couldn’t prove that Maki was distracted by his phone at the time of the crash. And they couldn’t show whether alcohol was in his system because he turned himself in the next day. “You’re the only one who knows how much,” the judge told Maki.
With that, the judge stayed a prison sentence of one year and one day, and gave him a maximum of four years of probation and 162 days in jail. He was taken to jail to serve eight days of the sentence.
He’ll serve a split sentence, returning to jail on Aug. 18, Antonio’s birthday, and then will be released on Sept. 11. He’ll repeat that each year through 2020.