The first test of a new approach in prosecuting drivers who kill pedestrians resulted in a slightly tougher sentence Wednesday for a Rosemount man.
Jake Mattern, 24, was sentenced to 20 days of house arrest, two years of probation, and 80 hours of volunteering for Minnesotans for Safe Driving after being convicted in May of criminal vehicular operation. Mattern struck and killed Rachel David, 56, on a snowy evening in 2016 as she crossed Hennepin Avenue in a crosswalk at 8th Street.
The Minneapolis city attorney’s office used a recent change in state law to charge Mattern with two gross misdemeanors instead of the lesser misdemeanor charges used in the past. It’s one of three cases where city prosecutors have charged drivers with gross misdemeanors after striking and killing pedestrians, but the first to reach trial and sentencing.
“Pedestrians should be able to enter a protected crosswalk feeling safe from harm,” said Tim Richards, supervising attorney in the city attorney’s criminal division, following the trial in May. “And we’re getting to the point where pedestrians can’t do that so much with all of the distracted driving that’s going on.”
In court for sentencing Wednesday, Mattern apologized to the victim’s family and asked for their forgiveness.
“I think about that accident every day when I get into my vehicle,” Mattern said. “It haunts me when I drive through Minneapolis.”
The day Mattern struck David, he was trying to make a delivery in a truck as part of his job with a heating and cooling company, according to court documents. He circled the block once, looking for the appropriate loading dock. Mattern then waited for a group of pedestrians to pass before he made a left turn onto Hennepin and hit David, who was walking behind them.
State law changed in 2015 to make reckless driving a gross misdemeanor if it results in great bodily harm. Reckless driving requires prosecutors to prove a higher level of negligence than careless driving, the more typical charge in pedestrian crashes. Gross misdemeanors carry a maximum jail time of 365 days vs. 90 days for a misdemeanor.
The jury acquitted Mattern of reckless driving, but convicted him of criminal vehicular homicide — another gross misdemeanor. The city attorney’s said they pursued the latter charge because it has a similar standard as reckless driving.
Prosecutors requested that Mattern spend four days in the workhouse as part of his sentence, but Judge Margaret Daly opted for 20 days of electronic home monitoring.
“I don’t know that I feel at this point that you need to go to the workhouse for a weekend to understand the significance of this,” Daly said.
Still, Heng said after the sentencing, the gross misdemeanor conviction resulted in a tougher sentence than a misdemeanor would have, with the house arrest — except for work — and twice as much time on probation.
“He has a lot more hanging over his head, and a longer probationary period,” Heng said.
But David’s son, Christopher David, called the sentence “laughable.”
“This is indicative of the fact that apparently driving is a right, not a privilege, which is why we can do whatever we want on the roads,” David said. “And no matter what happens, it’s minimal penalty at most.”
A 2016 Star Tribune investigation of pedestrian deaths in the Twin Cities showed that most drivers who kill pedestrians are not charged with a crime or face misdemeanors and light sentences — except in drunken driving or hit-and-run incidents.
Christopher David said last month that his mother lived in south Minneapolis and never learned to drive, relying on light rail and buses to get around. She often walked around downtown, her son said, shopping at Target and running errands. She had previously complained about impatient drivers honking at her as she maneuvered the city’s crosswalks.
“That was actually a pet peeve of hers, since way back: distracted driving and people not paying attention,” Christopher David said.