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Rochester, MN (KROC-AM News) - An Olmsted County judge has ruled the evidence supports a longer than recommended sentence for a Rochester man who killed a local teenager last year while driving drunk and speeding.

35-year-old Sterling Haukom previously entered a guilty plea to a criminal vehicular homicide charge for causing the death of 18-year-old Erika Cruz. Haukom was intoxicated and speeding through a residential area on the evening of February 23rd of last year when his pickup smashed into the victim’s car at the intersection of 12th Street and 8th Avenue Southeast near the Lincoln K-8 School. His blood-alcohol-concentration was later tested at more than three times the legal limit and the so-called "black box" in his vehicle shows that was traveling at more than 60 miles per hour just seconds before the deadly crash.

Erika Cru
Erika Cru
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The ruling granting the prosecution's request for an aggravated sentence in the case was handed down earlier this week. The judge found Haukom's "conduct was significantly more serious than that typically involved in the commission of Criminal Vehicular Homicide." Haukom previously waived his right to a jury trial on the issue and the judge heard testimony and evidence concerning the aggravating factors of the case in February.

The next step will be a sentencing hearing, during which the court will hear victim impact statements and arguments from both the prosecution and defense. That hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Below are the Findings of Fact that were included in the judge's ruling.

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FINDINGS OF FACT

The Court, acting as the trier of fact with regard to sentencing facts, finds that the
following facts supporting an aggravated departure have been proven by the State
beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court finds that Defendant’s conduct was significantly
more serious that that typically involved in the commission of Criminal Vehicular Homicide – Operating a Motor Vehicle in a Negligent Manner While Under the Influence of Alcohol, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.2112, subd. 1(a)(2)(i). Accordingly, an aggravated durational departure is legally permitted by the facts admitted and the facts proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

1. Defendant was highly intoxicated at the time of the crash:

  • a. Defendant’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), as measured within two hours
    of operating his motor vehicle, was approximately 0.25. This represents a
    BAC of more than three times the legal limit for non-commercial drivers in
    Minnesota. (Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd. 5)
  • b. Defendant’s excessive BAC was corroborated by his own statement to law
    enforcement, in which he admitted consuming approximately 15 drinks of
    beer and straight whiskey shots prior to driving, with the purpose of getting
    “toasted.” Defendant admitted that he knew his amount of alcohol
    consumption was “way too much,” to the point where he was “sick” before
    operating his vehicle that evening.

2. Defendant’s driving behavior, inclusive of his excessive speed, was egregious:

  • a. Defendant’s pertinent driving conduct occurred on 8th Avenue SE in
    Rochester, a residential street which at the time had a speed limit of 30
    miles per hour. On 8th Avenue, Defendant intentionally accelerated his
    vehicle over the posted speed limit to the point of highly excessive speed
    when he struck Ms. Cruz. In Defendant’s words, he was purposefully
    “smashing on the gas” while traveling on 8th Avenue into the intersection
    where he struck Ms. Cruz. Defendant estimated his vehicle was traveling at
    50 mph and agrees he was “going very quickly” when entering the
    intersection.
  • b. Defendant’s admissions to driving at excessive speed are corroborated by
    other independent evidence.
    i. The Crash Data Retrieval (CDR) data recovered from Defendant’s
    vehicle shows that beginning just short of 15 seconds before the
    crash, Defendant fully depressed the accelerator pedal of his vehicle.
    The CDR data indicates Defendant “floored it” for the duration of that
    14-15 second period, up until the precise moment he struck Ms.
    Cruz’ vehicle. The CDR data also shows that at no point did
    Defendant activate the brakes between the initial depressing of the
    accelerator pedal and the moment of the crash 14-15 seconds later.
    The lack of any skid marks at the scene of the crash corroborates
    the CDR data.
    ii. The CDR data shows that within that same 14-15 second timespan,
    Defendant’s vehicle went from a displayed speed of 6 miles per hour
    to a displayed speed of 66 miles per hour at the moment of the crash,
    with consistent, heavy acceleration throughout. The precise speed
    of Defendant’s vehicle may not be exact, but the fact that
    Defendant’s vehicle was traveling well in excess of the speed limit—
    and was still accelerating into impact—is proven. The nature of the
    crash damage corroborates the CDR data.
    iii. Witness Taylor Sullivan, who was driving behind Ms. Cruz and
    directly observed the accident, described the speed of Defendant’s
    vehicle as like “a bullet.”
    iv. Defendant’s speed was such that he did not see Ms. Cruz’ vehicle
    prior to striking it, much less react to its presence. In his words, “[it]
    wasn’t there until I hit it, I couldn’t see anything.”

3. Defendant’s state of mind while operating his vehicle went beyond simple
negligence into gross negligence and/or recklessness.

  • a. Defendant’s statement to law enforcement confirmed he was angry about
    getting into an argument at a local bar earlier that evening and being told to
    leave. Defendant admitted that when he drove away from the bar, and
    eventually onto 8th Avenue, he was “just pissed.”
  • b. Defendant also admitted his state of mind when operating his vehicle while
    intoxicated and at high speed was such that he “stopped caring . . . about
    myself, and then I stopped caring about anybody.” Defendant stated he was
    not intentionally trying to take his own life by way of his driving conduct, but
    “was willing to go.” These admissions, in combination with his intoxication
    and driving behavior, demonstrate Defendant was driving with a grossly
    negligent or reckless state of mind.

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