Gary Walsh brought a message of forgiveness to the sentencing hearing for the man convicted of driving in a fatal crash that killed his son.
“I don’t have any choice,” the River Falls man said before the sentencing, reciting a portion of the Lord’s Prayer, which stresses the message of forgiveness.
Walsh attended the Jan. 28 sentencing hearing for Steven Dolan, 51, who was convicted of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle in November 2015 by a Jackson County jury.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Anna Becker sentenced Dolan to five years on probation and $11,309 in restitution costs. In addition, Becker sentenced him to spend two weeks in jail on the anniversary of the fatal crash for the duration of his probation.
Becker also asked Dolan to identify two ways he could assist public safety in boosting public awareness.
Gary Walsh said it’s not yet clear what that will be, but he’s hoping Dolan might appear in a public service announcement video. He recalled a video produced by Minnesota public safety officials involving the driver of a fatal crash taking the podium next to the victim’s family.
“Something like that, going all over the media, is dramatic,” he said.
The charge stemmed from an October 2014 crash when Dolan’s vehicle struck and killed Nate Walsh, a tow truck driver who was on the shoulder of Interstate 94 near Osseo, Wis., tending to a disabled vehicle.
Nate, an experienced tow truck driver who learned his trade at shops around Hudson, New Richmond and River Falls, owned his own company -- Osseo-based Loft Towing -- at the time of his death.
As Dolan’s sentencing date drew closer, the experience allowed Gary more time for reflection. He said he often considers what it’s like to be in Dolan’s shoes.
“This guy didn’t start out in the morning saying, ‘I’m going to go out and kill a tow truck operator,’” Gary said last week.
He said an experience just last month crystallized the issue for him. Gary said he was on his way to visit a friend in Minneapolis when he realized he had missed a turn.
Gary realized he had been concentrating on what he’d say during the sentencing hearing and momentarily lost focus on his driving.
“The reality of it hit me that I was just like everyone else at that point,” he said.
Gary said he thought Becker’s sentence was appropriate, especially considering what little could be gained by locking Dolan up for an extended period of time.
“This guy didn’t have a clue what he did,” Gary said.
But if there’s a way Dolan can spread the message that Gary so desperately wants to convey -- for drivers to move over or slow down when approaching rigs with emergency lights flashing -- by telling his story to others, he said he’d support that.
“I don’t want this guy to be the story,” Gary said. “I want the story he tells to be the story.”
Meanwhile, he said he’s going to continue his effort to spread awareness of Wisconsin’s Move Over law.
Gary is currently gathering signatures on a petition calling for the state to erect more road signs reminding drivers of the Move Over law and to make penalties stiffer for offenders.
“If I had the money, I’d go out to every county fair in the state and set up a booth,” he said.
Last week’s Dolan hearing follows the sentencing for another man charged in a crash involving a tow truck driver.
St. Paul resident Nicholas M. Moeller, 24, was sentenced Jan. 12 to one month in jail and five years on probation. He pleaded guilty in July 2015 to first-degree recklessly endangering safety and causing injury while operating under the influence.
Moeller was charged after a Sept. 27, 2014, crash on Highway 35 in the town of Troy when the car he was driving slammed into a tow truck that was stopped on the side of the road. Moeller’s car struck the tow truck after swerving to avoid a St. Croix County sheriff’s squad car parked at the scene.
Two of the three passengers in Moeller’s car were hospitalized, while the tow truck operator, New Richmond resident Kurt Winchelman, narrowly escaped injury.
St. Croix County Deputy District Attorney Michael Nieskes said Moeller’s blood-alcohol level on the night of the crash was 0.208. Nieskes said witnesses estimated he was driving 80 mph at the time of the crash -- a claim Moeller’s attorney, Frank Demaio, called “clearly speculative.”
“I take full responsibility for my actions on that night,” Moeller said at the hearing. “I’m just thankful no one was seriously injured.”
St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Eric Lundell ordered Moeller to write a personal letter of apology to Winchelman and the sheriff’s deputy as part of the sentence.