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Mattson sentenced to jail time, fine and required vision test for hitting blind man at busy Willmar intersection

WILLMAR -- Gary Lee Mattson, 56, of Willmar, was sentenced this morning to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine and a year of probation on a misdemeanor charge of failure to stop for a blind person for a Nov. 16 incident in which he ran over a blind man at First Street South and 19th Avenue in Willmar.

As part of his sentence, handed down by Judge Michael J. Thompson in Kandiyohi County District Court, Mattson was also ordered to take a vision test to determine if he has retinitis pigmentosa, pay $540 in restitution and attend a victim impact panel.

Mattson was ordered to being serving 30 of the 90 days in jail on Monday. The remaining 60 days was stayed for one year.

"It is unbelievable that someone would leave the scene of an accident such as this," Thompson said before handing down the sentence. "We all make mistakes, but we have to be accountable for those mistakes."

Mattson's attorney, Daniel Eller, argued that Mattson was concerned about the victim, Thomas Sykora, 58, of Willmar, in the days after the crash, but did not contact Sykora to apologize because he was advised not to by his insurance company.

Police reports in the court file indicate Mattson spoke briefly to a sheriff's deputy who had stopped for the accident and then left the scene. He was not located by law enforcement until several hours after the crash.

"He is sorry for what occurred. He is remorseful for what happened," Eller said.

Mattson did not apologize to Sykora during the hearing, only noting that he had been told not to contact Sykora by the insurance company. He said he has no lack of remorse for his actions.

The incident left Sykora with 22 broken ribs, plus a broken scapula -- or shoulder blade -- and a broken ankle that required surgery. He was taken to Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar and was later airlifted to St. Cloud Hospital where he was hospitalized for about a month.

Sykora's daughter, Kelley Sykora, read her father's victim impact statement to the court. In the statement, he recounted his pain and suffering from the time of the crash, through the hospitalization and through the recovery process.

"The impact of this offense has been huge to me, my life and my family," the impact statement read. "It has taken away a lot of my independence and mobility."

Sykora stated that he suffered emotional harm and discovered "terrifying panic" when he first attempted to go for a walk with his guide dog Nectar this spring and heard a car coming from behind him. He is seeking counseling, he said.

Sykora has filed a civil lawsuit against Mattson. According to the suit, Sykora is seeking a judgment in excess of $50,000 and claims he suffered severe and life-threatening injuries due to Mattson's negligence. During the sentencing hearing, Sykora said he has hospital bills of more than $185,000.

Read more about the sentencing hearing in Thursday's West Central Tribune.

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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