STILLWATER - Though the three-year anniversary of Megan Goeltz's death is nearing, the event remains a raw nerve for her survivors, who described her loss during an emotional hearing Monday in Washington County District Court.
"Our hearts are forever broken," her sister, Melissa Goeltz Loomis, said at the Jan. 7 hearing.
The hearing brought to an end the criminal case against the driver in the crash that killed Goeltz, North Hudson resident Drew Fleming. He pleaded guilty to one count of reckless driving, a gross misdemeanor.
Goeltz, a 22-year-old Hudson resident, was pregnant with a child at the time of the crash. Only Fleming survived the crash, which occurred Feb. 29, 2016, in West Lakeland Township.
Though Goeltz's family members asked 10th District Court Judge Richard Ilkka to sentence Fleming to the maximum one-year penalty, the 22-year-old received about half that - 180 days in jail. Ilkka's sentence also calls for Fleming to spend two years on probation, to perform at least 20 hours of community service by speaking to others about distracted driving, to pay a $500 fine and to abstain from alcohol and drugs.
"Is that justice?" Goeltz's father, Tom Goeltz, said after the hearing. "I don't think so."
Tom Goeltz was among those seeking stiffer charges against Fleming, who admitted in court that it was possible he was looking at his phone before the crash. But phone records from the app Fleming had opened didn't contain a timestamp that matched up, Tom Goeltz explained.
"They need to know that exact moment," he said.
Tom Goeltz also said toxicology results listing drugs allegedly found in Fleming's system weren't admissible in court because officers on the scene didn't follow the correct procedure to request laboratory testing.
"We're just extremely disappointed in the whole process," he said.
He was one of several family members who delivered impassioned speeches to Ilkka that laid out the pain they experienced after learning Megan was killed in the crash.
"It felt like a lightning bolt hitting our body," maternal grandmother Patricia Wolf said at the hearing.
She and others described the close bond Megan shared with her daughter Paisley. Mother and daughter lived at home with Tom and Wendy Goeltz, though the child now lives with her father.
"That little girl was my sister's whole world," said brother Gavin Goeltz, who spoke at the hearing about the difficulty of having Fleming - a former Hudson High School classmate and football teammate - become responsible for her death.
Wendy Goeltz noted how she treasured lunch hours at home she took to spend time with "our feisty, energetic middle child" and her granddaughter.
"She was a great single mom," Wendy Goeltz told Ilkka.
The emotional hearing even saw prosecutor Tom Wedes get choked up as he read his statement telling the judge how the crash was preventable and tragic.
"The family has been sentenced to life without their child," he said.
Fleming offered "deepest condolences" to the Goeltz family during his time to speak.
"I understand the burden fully and would never wish this upon anyone," he said, adding that if he could trade places with Megan, "I truly would."
Tom Goeltz, who testified last year at the Minnesota Capitol in support of hands-free phone legislation for drivers, said he will continue seeking changes to the law. He said he would also support similar legislation in Wisconsin.
Ilkka's sentence allows Fleming to attend college at UW-Stout, though he must spend nights in jail. The judge ordered the last portion of his jail sentence to commence on the 2020 anniversary of Goeltz's death.