After hearing from Jason Soldwisch's supporters, including the father of his victim, Judge Wally Eklund spared the father of three a prison term Tuesday.
"There is not a huge benefit to society in putting you away," the judge told Soldwisch before suspending the execution of a 10-year prison sentence while warning the 31-year-old his future depends upon his behavior.
Soldwisch, who faced up to 15 years in prison, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide for the death of Jason Burke, 31, of Rockerville. Burke died Aug. 11 when Soldwisch, who was intoxicated, lost control of his car on Dyess Avenue.
Soldwisch must serve 180 days in jail and complete seven years of probation. Eklund also ordered the Box Elder man to write letters of apologies to his victim's families. Soldwisch must participate in the 24/7 sobriety monitoring program for the next two years.
The sentencing was an emotional 30 minutes for everyone involved with the case.
Pennington County Deputy State's Attorney Sarah Morrison sought a 7-1/2 year prison sentence for Soldwisch, whose actions killed best friend.
Soldwisch is remorseful and took responsibility for the accident early on, Morrison said.
But his choice to drive that night "created a courtroom full of victims," she said, pointing to the front row of Eklund's courtroom, where Burke's family sat shoulder to shoulder with Soldwisch's.
"His decision left a widow with four children," Morrison said. Burke's widow, Nicki, is lost without her husband, she said. "She's not whole without him."
Morrison, who was called to the scene the night of the accident, said Soldwisch's speed was estimated at 106 mph. The car was "wrapped in barbed wire" and came to rest on a natural gas valve that could have exploded.
"I have never met such a forgiving family," Morrison told Eklund, adding that she believes the family is angry over Burke's death but asked for leniency anyway.
Soldwisch's blood alcohol was .220 sometime after the crash, but Burke's was below the legal limit.
"He did not need to be behind the wheel," Morrison said, referring to Soldwisch. "It's a homicide."
Burke's father was the first person to speak on Soldwisch's behalf.
"Our life has been shattered, and so has Jason's," Douglas Burke said. Sending Soldwisch to the penitentiary would not help anyone, he said.
"I don't want his family to lose everything," Burke said.
Eklund also heard from Soldwisch's parents, his wife and a hospital chaplain who has counseled him since the accident.
Soldwisch's attorney, Tim Rensch, said his client completed an inpatient alcohol treatment program after the accident and routinely attends AA.
"No one has been harder on Jason than himself," Rensch said. "In the beginning, he didn't want to live."
Soldwisch was the last to speak before hearing Eklund's sentence. "I did a horrible, terrible thing. I have to live with myself," said a tearful Soldwisch, who admitted that he had contemplated suicide since the accident.
"I took away something I can never give back," Soldwisch said. "I can never make it right."
Contact Andrea Cook at 394-8423 or firstname.lastname@example.org.