FARGO — Imagine your first-born son brain-dead in a hospital bed as he takes his last breath, while your other son lies in the next room fighting for his life after the two boys were in a drunken driving crash, their father at the wheel.
Kristen Sande wanted those images to be visualized by those sitting Monday, Jan. 27, in a Cass County Courtroom. It's how she felt after Christopher Lee Devine, 33, decided to shoot whiskey with a friend, put his and Sande's children in the back seat of a vehicle and drive down South University Drive last year before crashing into another vehicle.
"Imagine your heart sink at the thought of losing both of your sons," Sande wrote in a letter read by prosecutor Ryan Younggren. "Imagine feeling your heart sink again, having to tell your baby's best friend his confidant, his idol, his hero, his heart, his love, his everything was no longer on Earth."
Devine sat silently — sometimes shaking his head and covering his face with his hands — as Cass County District Judge Susan Bailey sentenced him to 14 years in prison for three felony criminal vehicular charges. He received 10 years for the death of his 7-year-old son, Jason, and two years each for injuring his younger son, Branden, and Jacob Larson, the adult front-seat passenger of Devine’s vehicle when the crash happened March 23 in the 1300 block of South University Drive.
“I can’t make anyone whole by the sentence I impose,” Bailey told Devine, adding she wished anyone convicted of driving drunk could have been in the courtroom Monday to witness the pain caused by his decision to drink and drive.
Younggren described how Devine lost control of the vehicle while driving at about 75 mph that evening and slid into oncoming traffic, striking the rear passenger side of another vehicle. The defendant was taken to a hospital to be treated for serious injuries.
His blood-alcohol level was 0.267%, more than three times the legal limit to drive, Younggren said.
- Audio: Police read rights to hospitalized, now jailed father charged in crash that killed son
- Judge: Blood test stays in case against driver whose son died after crash
Jason died March 26. Doctors questioned whether Branden, who was 5 years old at the time of the crash, would survive, but he lived and is still recovering.
"That is nothing short of a miracle," Sande wrote in her letter.
Still, the boy likely will suffer from long-term physical impacts from the crash, Sande said. She asked the judge to consider the losses Jason, Branden and their family have suffered because of Devine, saying she and Branden have to live their worst nightmare for the rest of their lives.
Family wearing white shirts that said “Justice for Jason” also sat in the courtroom Monday. The boys’ grandmother, Nancy Morgan, admonished Devine for his choices.
“Those two babies didn’t deserve none of this,” Morgan said loudly as she cried.
No one knows why Devine decided to drive drunk with his children in the back seat, Younggren said, but the defendant's decisions led to Jason's death and Larson's and Branden's injuries, the prosecutor added.
"We don't know where they were going or why, but don't take your kids," Younggren said. "It's not a good decision to leave your kids at home, but by God, don't put them in the back seat of your car after you've been shooting whiskey and drive 75 mph up University Drive."
Devine's attorney, Ashley Schell, said she struggled with what to say during court proceedings. Devine said he didn't want to put family, particularly Branden, through a trial.
"He told me many times before, 'Why couldn't it be me? I would do anything to trade places with Jason,'" Schell said of Devine, adding the defendant would punish himself for the rest of his life.
Devine, who previously pleaded guilty in the case, did not address the court but asked Schell to read a letter on his behalf. He said he loves his children but was not in the right state of mind the night of the crash.
“I failed as a father,” Devine wrote in the letter apologizing for his actions.