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Deportation is possible for 18-year-old

WILLMAR -- An 18-year-old man from Mexico was sentenced Tuesday to a year and a day in prison, which was stayed, three years of probation and 180 days in the county jail for driving drunk and crashing an SUV into a Willmar family's minivan and then driving away.

As part of his sentence on a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation, Cesar Vidal Rodriguez was ordered to pay $534 in restitution and cooperate with agents from the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He was given credit for 73 days already served in jail. The sentence was handed down in Kandiyohi County District Court by Judge Kathryn N. Smith. Rodriguez was originally charged with five gross misdemeanor charges in the Sept. 27 incident that sent four people to the hospital. Two of the charges were amended to felony level. He pleaded to one felony charge of criminal vehicular operation and a gross misdemeanor for failing to stop for an accident.

The remaining charges were dismissed.

The young man, speaking in Spanish through the court's interpreter, apologized profusely and said he had learned his lesson and will not drink and drive again. "I'll never make the same mistake again, to mix beer and a steering wheel," he said, adding that he fled from the crash, at the intersection of Seventh Street and Kandiyohi Avenue Southwest, because he was scared of what he had done.

Rodriguez' attorney, Public Defender Carter Greiner, asked that Smith limit his jail time to the 73 days he'd already served, noting that his client would like to be with his family in Mexico for Christmas. The young man, he said, is undocumented and facing deportation.

Richard Carlson, 42, of Willmar, was driving the family's minivan to church, with his wife and two daughters, when it was struck by a Dodge Durango driven by Rodriguez. During his victim-impact statement, Carlson described the aftermath of the crash, in which the van was struck on the passenger side, spun around and overturned onto its roof.

"This should not have happened to my family, and should not have happened to any family," he said, but it did because Rodriguez made bad choices, consumed alcohol and drove a vehicle. Family members are still dealing with their injuries and pain from the crash, he added.

Carlson's 12-year-old daughter, Emily, said in her statement that she was angry at Rodriguez for leaving the scene of the crash, scared at the hospital while being checked for injuries and has missed school for chiropractic treatments. "The thing I want for Christmas is for my whole family to be better," she said.

In her statement, Richard's wife, Laura, said that the crash has been a test of her faith. "Bitterness is no way to live," she said. "I forgive you."

All four members of the family were taken to Rice Memorial Hospital by ambulance after the crash, around 9 a.m. Sept. 27. Following up on information provided by the family and witnesses, police located Rodriguez soon afterward and arrested him. His blood-alcohol concentration was 0.24 about one hour after the incident.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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