by Jim Boyle
Carlos Molina Flores will not go to prison for criminal vehicular homicide in the death of Suzanah Van De Walker, of St. Francis, provided he adheres to the conditions of his 10 years of probation.
The 43-year-old Nowthen man pleaded guilty Dec. 16 in Sherburne County District Court to a felony charge of criminal vehicular homicide with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more within two hours of driving on Feb. 24.
He was traveling southbound in his Dodge pickup in 10100 block of Twin Lakes Road at 1:26 a.m., and the St. Francis woman had been traveling northbound when Flores’ truck crossed the center line of the road and collided with the Grand Prix she was driving.
Flores’ blood alcohol content level was recorded as 0.17, which is more than twice the legal limit.
The plea agreement was reached between Flores’ public defender Michael Berger and Chief Deputy Sherburne County Attorney Samuel Wertheimer after a hung jury could not reach a decision as to his guilt or innocence that night.
The 12-member jury deadlocked last month after more than two full days of deliberations, delivering neither the guilty verdict that Van De Walker’s family had hoped for nor the not guilty verdict the defense had sought.
Wertheimer told the court Dec. 16 — the day a retrial was scheduled to convene — that the state had the option of retrying the case or making a settlement offer. He said the decision was to make a settlement offer.
He told the court he had shared it with the family of Van De Walker.
“I can’t say they’re happy with the settlement. … But I decided to make it,” Wertheimer said.
Two victim impact statements from family members were read in court.
Berger, who argued contributory negligence during the first trial, said there were two tragedies on Feb. 24. He said he can’t imagine what the family is going through, and neither can Flores.
He said his client lives with the memory of what he saw, being the first person to reach her vehicle at the crash site.
When given a chance to address the court, Flores turned to the family and said he was very sorry and that many times he wished he would have been the person who died that night.
He said he could relate to Van De Walker’s husband because he has three children of his own. He expressed his sorrow to both Joshua Van De Walker and Suzanah Van De Walker’s family.
“I am truly very sorry,” he said, before returning to his seat, breaking down and sobbing.
Judge Thomas D. Hayes said there are no winners in this case, which he said highlighted the tragic consequences of drinking and driving.
Hayes said no words could describe the devastation a family must feel for the irreplaceable loss of Van De Walker.
“And Mr. Flores’ family has lost the man who left his Nowthen residence that night,” he said. “Mr. Flores will never be the same man.
“Any sentence would pale in comparison to the sentence imposed on the family. No punishment put to Mr. Flores will take away the pain and regret that he’ll feel the rest of his life.”
Hayes committed Flores to the Minnesota Commissioners of Corrections for 57 months or 4 3/4 years but stayed the execution of the sentence for 10 years. Flores will also be credited with the 173 days he has served in the Sherburne County Jail.
Hayes fined Flores $20,000, but stayed $19,500 of it. He will have to pay the $500 fine within 36 months.
As part of his probation, Flores is required to have an alcohol and chemical use assessment done and to follow the recommendations related to treatment, counseling and such.
He is also forbidden to drink alcohol and must remain a law-abiding citizen.
Hayes agreed to the downward departure in sentencing due to Flores’ amenability to probation, his remorse and the fact that he accepted responsibility.
“After considering what happened in the first trial, the proposed resolution is appropriate,” Hayes said,
He would accept the plea agreement as negotiated by both sides, according to Hayes.
“It gives me no great pleasure to do so,” Hayes said. “It will not eliminate the pain the family suffers, and it will not restore Flores to the man he was before the accident.”
Hayes told Flores that he cannot allow this tragedy to define him as a man.
“It’s up to you to right this wrong,” he said.
Hayes urged him to become a crusader against drinking and driving.