Park Rapids teen gets jail time in motorcyclist's death
PARK RAPIDS -- A tearful teenager was sentenced Monday to seven days in jail in the 2009 death of a Park Rapids motorcyclist, and she was ordered to begin serving her sentence on the anniversary of his death.
Brittany Ann Sayler, 19, entered into a plea bargain that resulted in her pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to yield the right-of-way. A second misdemeanor charge of careless driving was dismissed in the April 2009 death of 42-year-old John Kisner.
The accident occurred at the intersection of County Roads 6 and 15 south of Park Rapids.
The sentence appeared to stun Sayler's attorney, Michael Hughes.
It followed tearful statements by Kisner's widow Kirsten and son Alex, who urged the maximum possible penalty of 90 days.
Kirsten Kisner said the family suffered from "indescribable grief.
"You took away my husband and left my three kids without a father," she said, reading from a prepared statement.
"I've lost the love of my life," she said, holding her son's hand at the prosecution table.
Alex Kisner, too, asked for a harsher penalty than the recommended suspended sentence both the prosecution and defense had agreed to in the plea agreement.
"Then you would see the pain you've inflicted on our family," he said.
Judge Robert Tiffany did not follow the recommendation.
"This is going to be one of the toughest days of your life if April 17 wasn't," Tiffany told Sayler. "There's nothing I can do as a judge to take that away or make the day easier for the Kisners. I am trying to send a message that it is a privilege to operate a motor vehicle on the roadways."
He said the accident had "dramatic and tragic results."
In addition to the jail sentence, Tiffany gave Sayler a $500 fine, suspended her license for six months, ordered her to write a letter of apology to the Kisner family, to incur no other moving violations and to perform 80 hours of community service.
Sayler was also ordered to make restitution to the victim's family. They had asked for $13,500 for lost wages and funeral expenses. County Attorney Don Dearstyne said he would research the law to see if such restitution was permissible with a misdemeanor conviction.
Hughes said he would consult with his client and possibly file a motion to withdraw Sayler's guilty plea.
"This is not a case where Brittany was hot-dogging or driving under the influence," he told the judge. "She didn't see the (motorcycle) coming.
"Jail time was not part of the plea bargain," Hughes said. "It certainly wasn't contemplated in this case."
"I advised your client that attorney recommendations were only that," said Tiffany, who had previously sentenced Sayler on a Fourth Degree DWI charge in 2007.
That conviction could not be used against her in the misdemeanor case, Dearstyne said. Misdemeanors cannot be enhanced by prior convictions.
But judges can use the conviction in meting out punishment.
"During any sentence the court has the opportunity and the right to review any driving records," Dearstyne said, declining further comment.
Hughes said the defense team commissioned an accident reconstruction report that indicated Kisner was speeding when he broadsided the driver's side of Sayler's car.
She said she stopped at the intersection then headed westbound on Highway 15. Kisner's motorcycle was traveling north on County Road 6. A memorial has been erected on the site by Kisner's family.
That has prompted some citizen concerns and calls to county officials to ask that it be removed.
Hughes said if Sayler withdraws her plea and the case goes to trial, it's possible she could be acquitted based on the reconstruction evidence.
Motorists "lose that right-of-way if they're speeding," he told the court.
Dearstyne said the state would contest that report if the matter heads to trial.
"Brittany has a significant amount of remorse," Dearstyne told the court in recommending the suspended sentence for the Bemidji State freshman.
Both families, looking dejected, left the courtroom in tears.