Fleeing driver gets nearly 19 years in prison for killing couple in Fergus Falls chase

Multiple family members and friends of the deceased couple spoke as the defendant cried in court.

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Cody James Freitag
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FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — A 32-year-old man has been sentenced to almost 19 years in prison for killing an elderly couple after crashing into their vehicle last year during a law enforcement pursuit in Fergus Falls.

Cody James Freitag of Barrett, Minnesota, cried as family and friends of Steven Christianson, 72, and Diane Christianson, 71, spoke Monday, Nov. 1, in Otter Tail County District Court.

Freitag fled Otter Tail County sheriff’s deputies on Oct. 2, 2020, in a vehicle before running a stop sign at Cavour and Union avenues in downtown Fergus Falls.

That’s where he crashed into the Christiansons’ vehicle. The couple died at the scene.


One of the deputies in the chase was Kelly Backman, who was found to have fentanyl in his system during the pursuit. The former officer, according to court documents, also had drug paraphernalia in his desk and locker, and investigators determined he failed to log some drug-related items into evidence, despite reporting that he found them during his work as a narcotics officer.

Backman was fired in April and later sentenced to 30 days of electronic home monitoring after pleading guilty to misconduct by a public official.

Freitag pleaded guilty in September to two felony counts of fleeing law enforcement during a vehicle chase that resulted in death, with each charge carrying a maximum punishment of 40 years behind bars. Because of a plea agreement, he was sentenced to 225 months in prison, which works out to 18 years and nine months.

Two counts of criminal vehicular homicide were dismissed.

If Freitag doesn’t commit any disciplinary offenses in prison, he will be released after serving 150 months, or 12.5 years.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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