Moorhead man gets 300 hours of community service for deadly distracted driver crash
Jason Olsonoski also participated in restorative justice, during which he met with injured victims and family members of those who died in the crashed.
FARGO — A judge has ordered a Moorhead man to complete 300 hours of community service for a distracted driving crash that killed two and injured three in northern Cass County.
Cass County District Judge Reid Brady handed down the sentence on Monday, April 17, to 44-year-old Jason Alleyn Olsonoski. The defendant pleaded guilty in January to two counts of negligent homicide and one count of reckless endangerment, all felonies.
“I ask, Your Honor, for the sentence you deem fit for a hardworking father who made a terrible mistake that caused so much pain and suffering for the families seated in the courtroom today, including my own,” Olsonoski said before he was sentenced.
Monday’s sentencing hearing ended the criminal court proceedings for a Sept. 25, 2021, crash near Hunter, North Dakota, which is about 35 miles northwest of Fargo.
Amy Ulmer of Wheatland, North Dakota, was waiting to make a left turn from Highway 18 about 2 miles south of Hunter in a northbound 2021 Chevrolet Suburban when Olsonoski rear-ended her with his 2020 Chevrolet Silverado, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
The Suburban was forced into the southbound lane, resulting in a head-on collision with Richard Nelson’s 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe, state troopers said.
Nelson, an 82-year-old, and his passenger, 69-year-old Marilyn Sandbeck, died in the crash. Both were from Devils Lake, North Dakota, and were dating.
Ulmer and her two daughters, ages 8 and 5 at the time, were injured. The younger girl suffered more serious injuries and required multiple surgeries, including for her broken femur, Ulmer said while speaking Monday in court.
The girl had to use a wheelchair and had to relearn how to walk twice, once when rods were put into her legs and again when they were taken out, Ulmer said.
“What a way to start your kindergarten year,” the mother said.
Olsonoski suffered minor injuries. All people involved in the crash were wearing seat belts, the Highway Patrol said.
Phone records showed Olsonoski ended a phone conversation 10 seconds before the crash and also accessed the Snapchat application 5 seconds before the crash, according to a criminal complaint. He also was going 76 mph in a 65 mph zone before the crash, the complaint said.
“We’re here today because Mr. Olsonoski drove while he was distracted,” Cass County State’s Attorney Kim Hegvik said. “That was an act that took the lives of two people, injured three and affected the lives of countless others.”
Olsonoski faced up to five years in prison for each count, but Judge Brady sentenced him to 360 days in jail, with all but 91 days suspended for three years while Olsonoski serves supervised probation.
Prior to being sentenced, Olsonoski voluntarily spent 91 days on electronic home monitoring.
Monday's sentence was recommended by prosecutors and the defense, though the defense asked for the case to be sealed after probation ended.
It also was the first time a Cass County defendant participated in the state’s pilot restorative justice program. The effort allows victims and their families to meet with defendants. A mediator assists in discussions between the victims and defendant, allowing them to share stories, memories and feelings about how the crime impacted them.
The program is meant to help victims heal while holding the defendant accountable for their actions. Olsonoski said he was grateful that he was allowed to participate in the restorative justice program.
It allowed him to meet face-to-face with the victims of the crash and their relatives, listen to their stories and personally apologize, he said. Those efforts made a lasting impression on him, he said.
“Remorse for my actions will never be lost and I will continue to honor their memories to the best of my abilities,” Olsonoski said.
Ulmer said she was for the restorative justice program, but she wished it would have been done after the criminal case was completed. She and Sandbeck’s daughter, Stacy MacDonald, called for Olsonoski to be sentenced to some time behind bars.
Ulmer said she didn’t want a lengthy jail sentence for Olsonoski since he has children, but she asked what type of message is being sent to youth by sentencing a man who killed two and injured three in a distracted driving crash to probation.
“I feel like in this case, the state is behind Mr. Olsonoski and not behind the officers or victims,” Ulmer said, adding that this is no way to make roads safer.
MacDonald said her family will never again get to spend the holidays, Sunday dinners or life events with her mother and Nelson. She said the recommended sentence seems like a slap on the wrist, adding that she feels like her family and Ulmer are being punished.
“In my family’s opinion, six months to a year of jail time would not be out of line to show that distracted driving is wrong, to show that my mom and Richard’s life meant something,” MacDonald said.
Of the 300 hours of community service, at least 150 must be done through Vision Zero, a statewide strategy aimed at eliminating vehicle crashes that result in deaths or serious injuries, or a similar program.