Commentary: Justice lacking in drunken driving fatalitiesLast month Chad Lexvold, 20, of Kenyon, was sentenced in Goodhue County Court for the death of Jacob Baalson, 19.
By: Kathy Cooper, The Republican Eagle
Last month Chad Lexvold, 20, of Kenyon, was sentenced in Goodhue County Court for the death of Jacob Baalson, 19. Chad was the driver in a drunken driving crash that killed his best friend and injured two others and himself.
This tragic and horrific crash changed the lives of four families forever: one grieving the death of a beloved son, one supporting a son as he healed from his injuries and was sentenced for the crime, and two helping their children recover from injuries.
But it doesn’t stop there; it has impacted the greater communities in many ways.
I do not know either of these families, but I have cried many tears for both of them. I have watched the case from the sidelines with only newspaper accounts to provide information.
I have been amazed as the Baalson family came forward to start a sober cab program for special events. The money has been donated to the Kenyon-Wanamingo SADD Chapter to provide education and awareness for the high school students about the dangers of underage drinking and drinking and driving.
This terrible crash has touched my heart and soul because it closely resembles the crash that killed my daughter, Meghan, almost 13 years ago. I have been speaking for Meghan all these years with the hope that our community, not just Kenyon, but Goodhue County, Rice County where I now live, and the state would never again suffer this pain.
There have been fewer alcohol-related fatal crashes, but we are not at zero yet. And that is the only acceptable number.
I have watched almost every sentencing for criminal vehicular homicide in the state since Meghan’s death. I have researched sentencing for this crime and how it has evolved over the years. I am appalled at the disparity statewide.
The law reads if you drive while over the legal limit of .08 blood-alcohol content and kill someone, you are guilty of criminal vehicular homicide. This is a level VIII crime on the sentencing guidelines grid of 11 levels.
The state guidelines recommend 44 to 52 months in prison with a presumptive sentence of 48 months for a driver with zero criminal history points.
Minnesota was the first state to implement a sentencing guidelines structure. This was in 1981. The goals are to better assure public safety, to promote uniformity in sentencing, to provide truth and certainty in sentencing, and to establish proportionality in sentencing. The guidelines play a crucial role in helping to maintain balance between appropriate sentencing policy and correctional resources.
In 2010, 75 percent of all felony offenders sentenced received the presumptive guidelines sentences, although the percent of felony offenders sentenced for criminal vehicular homicide that received the presumptive guidelines sentence was much lower, hovering around 50 percent. Why?
If a drunken driver kills his passenger, best friend, or family member in Goodhue County shouldn’t he/she received the same sentence as the driver in Olmsted County? If a drunken driver kills his best friend, shouldn’t he receive the same sentence as a drunken driver who kills a stranger in another car?
Judges are provided a range for sentencing of each level of crime on the sentencing grid. Judges can depart upwards or downwards from the guidelines, but they must document their reasons for the departure.
In this case, the prosecutor stated that they are doing the downward departure because of his past and because he would be a good candidate for probation.
Rice County recently sentenced a drunken driver, a young male at least legal to drink, to 50 months in prison. He killed his good friend, a young lady, Brittney Landsverk, who was just 19 and injured two others in the car.
Has justice been served? Will he return to his community a better person? Will he receive treatment for his addiction in prison?
Prison or not?
So, the question seems to be prison or not. What will do the community the most good?
Certainly for Chad Lexvold, not going to prison may benefit him. He was able to complete a year of college after the crash, and he will most likely only miss fall term of the next year. We can only hope that his light sentence will make him a better person.
But what of the Baalson family, what does this sentence give them? Is this justice?
The assistant county attorney Erin Kuester is quoted in one of the newspapers as stating no one would be happy with the sentence because no sentence can bring Baalson back.
Yes, that is true, no one can bring Baalson back, but I bet the Lexvold family was happy Chad didn’t have to go prison.
The plea agreement “requires” or “lets” Lexvold speak in the schools in Goodhue County three times a year. Let’s hope that he receives some help and counseling on what that “speaking” should encompass.
I also hope that probation and the courts will do some follow-up to see what effect it has on the community 10 years down the road.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that speaking in a school has any more effect on lowering drunken driving than following the sentencing guidelines for those that drink and drive and kill.
One thing I do know: Lexvold’s BAC was .18 and it was 2 a.m. and he was driving at least 83 mph and he killed his best friend. That is all documented from the investigation.
He also was not the legal age of 21 to drink alcohol; he was only 19.
Some adult most likely provided this alcohol and they too have blood on their hands. What has happened to the alcohol provider?
I hope the next time a county attorney makes a plea agreement for a drunken driving fatal crash they include naming the source of the alcohol as part of that agreement.
Perhaps the Goodhue County courts have a crystal ball and can see beyond the injustice that I see.